Difference Between Tidal Wave and Tsunami

Tidal Wave vs Tsunami

Tsunami is a dreaded word in some parts of the world that are in Asia and the Pacific. The world saw the huge devastation caused by Indian Ocean Tsunami that struck many countries lying in Asia. Tsunamis have a history in some Asian countries, and they can be very destructive if they hit coastlines. There are many people who call tsunamis as tidal waves. However, despite appearing as a huge tidal wave, tsunamis are much different from them. This article takes a closer look at tsunami and tidal waves to highlight their differences.

Tidal Wave

Tides are produced in oceans and other water bodies of the earth because of the gravitational force of the moon. The water in the oceans is always moving towards the earth surface in the form of waves that have a crest or the high and a fall. The rise and fall of the waves creates a tide and this rise and fall is always a result of the gravitational forces or pull of the sun and the moon. A tidal wave is a natural and predictable event that is weather assisted and creates rise and fall of water in the form of huge waves. In areas such as rivers along the coast or narrow bays, the effect of the tidal wave is pronounced as water can rise several feet high during a tide.

In reality, a tidal wave is not exactly a wave but a rise in the level of water because of the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. If you pull water up and leave it down, it will be in the form of a tide as it moves across oceans. This is what happens during a tidal wave. Tidal wave appears to be huge in areas where water flow is slowed down as in bays and rivers along the coast.


Tsunami is a huge surge of water towards the surface of the earth in the form of huge waves or series of waves. These gigantic sea waves are the result of seismic activities on the floor of the ocean. Thus, earthquakes below an ocean cause tsunamis. Though there is a long history of tsunamis, the deadliest of them all was the one that hit a few Asian coastal countries in 2004, killing more than two hundred thousand people and destroying billions of dollars’ worth of property. Tsunami is a natural disaster that cannot be prevented, but with proper management, the level of destruction can be controlled. The destruction caused by tsunamis is more because the huge waves become more pronounced as they travel towards shallow areas near the surface of the earth. Thus, a tsunami that may not even be visible in the ocean may rise several meters above the level of the surface of the earth to cause huge devastation. The force of the waves created by tsunami is so high that it can crush large building like toys.

What is the difference between Tidal Wave and Tsunami?

• A tidal wave is a natural event that is caused by the gravitational pulls of the moon and sun (mainly moon).

• Tsunami is a huge wave that or a series of waves that move towards the coastline. These waves are the result of earthquake in the ocean floor causing shifting of water.

• Tsunami waves are much larger than tidal waves.

• Tsunamis are much more destructive than tidal waves as they are sudden and unpredictable.

• Tsunami looks like a huge tide which is why people mistakenly refer to it as huge tidal wave.

• The word tsunami comes from Japanese where it means harbor wave.