Real World Math: Measurement - Tsunami Warning

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami touched virtually every ocean shoreline on the planet. 

In this activity the students will calculate the speeds these killer waves took across the ocean using Google Earth.  Included in the file is a tour of 33 locations affected by the tsunami with descriptions.  The students will use the Google Earth ruler tool to measure the distance to 18 of these locations and calculate the rate the waves traveled to each.

They’ll find the waves traveled at different speeds in different directions.  Waves were hitting Sri Lanka before reaching Thailand even though it is much closer geographically.  
This is a good example that numbers do not always behave in the real world as we may expect them to.  Discussions and investigations should follow as to why this was, preferably instigated by the students.

Cross-curricular explorations in Science and Geography is highly recommended for this activity.

Note:  Many helpful links are contained on the last two placemarks: Credit and Images.
  The NOAA site for educators is a valuable resource.



  • Measure the distance tsunami waves traveled to 18 locations
  • Figure the elapsed time for the waves to travel
  • Calculate the speed tsunami waves traveled
  • Compare wave speeds and make conjectures

Student Activity Sheet
Student Log Sheet
Tsunami Rubric


Measurement & Time, Ratios, Rates & Percents
Middle School, High School, Educator

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