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Tsunami size variability with rupture depth


Observed maximum water heights from tsunamis vary by up to two orders of magnitude for a given earthquake size, presenting a challenge to emergency management. We provide a quantitative framework to investigate the influence of rupture depth and rigidity in explaining such variability. The results highlight the importance of rapid estimation of shallow slip with available geophysical data if reliable warning of local tsunamis is to be realized.

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Fig. 1: Observed water heights and computed maximum sea surface elevations with 40 GPa rigidity versus Mw.
Fig. 2: Observed water heights and computed maximum sea surface elevation with variable rigidity versus Mw.

Data availability

The processed water heights from observations and model data in Figs. 1 and 2 are available at

Code availability

The megathrust model and code, specifically set up for this study, are available for academic research upon request.


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We acknowledge support from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through NA19NWS4670012 (K.C., Y.Y. and L.S.) and National Science Foundation through EAR1802364 (T.L.). SOEST contribution no. 11418.

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Authors and Affiliations



K.C. and T.L. conceived the study and wrote the draft manuscript; Y.Y. customized NEOWAVE for implementation; L.S. carried out the tsunami modelling and data processing; and all authors worked collaborative to interpret the data and finalize the manuscript for publication.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kwok Fai Cheung.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks Kelin Wang and Aditya Gusman for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editors: Stefan Lachowycz; Rebecca Neely.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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Cheung, K.F., Lay, T., Sun, L. et al. Tsunami size variability with rupture depth. Nat. Geosci. 15, 33–36 (2022).

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