A group of scientists has warned of the potential for a catastrophic tsunami in the Gulf of Alaska, triggered by a landslide at Prince William Sound.
These scientists have explained how they had identified an ‘unstable mountain slope’ positioned above Barry Glacier in Barry Arm, which could slip into the water below and cause a colossal wave.
This grave danger is heightened as the glacier beneath recedes due to the ongoing climate change crisis. It’s feared both the landslide and tsunami could happen ‘within the next year, and likely within 20 years’.
In an alarming open letter, this group of scientists detailed how the tsunami could impact ‘potentially hundreds of people at one time’; affecting areas frequented by fishing vessels, hunters and tourists.
As of yet, the scientists only have preliminary results, however it’s expected the impact would be particularly serious close to where the landslide would hit the water at the head of Barry Arm, an approximate 60 miles east from the municipality of Anchorage.
Over the past decade, previous landslides have triggered huge waves in other locations in Alaska and Greenland. A slow moving landslide in Taan Fiord resulted in a tsunami in 2015 which reached elevations of 633ft close to the landslide and 35ft a full 15 miles away.
Another similar sized tsunami at Karrat Fiord, Greenland in 2017 left four people dead and destroyed a significant portion of the town of Nuugaatsiaq. The potential tsunami warned about in this letter would reportedly be much bigger than either of these examples.
According to the letter:
Slopes like this can change from slow creeping to a fast-moving landslide due to a number of possible triggers. Often, heavy or prolonged rain is a factor.
Hot weather that drives thawing of permafrost, snow or glacier ice can also be a trigger. Commonly, large landslides are preceded by rockfalls and other signs of increasing instability.
In a State of Alaska press release, state officials addressed the threat of a tsunami in Prince William Sound, and the ‘devastating effects’ it could have for those within the area.
Director of the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (DGGS), Steve Masterman, explained that DGGS staff, alongside a multi-institute working group, had received indications that the rapid retreat of Barry Glacier from Barry Arm could well result in ‘millions of tons of rock’ entering the Harriman Fiord.
According to Masterman and DGGS experts, this event could trigger ‘a tsunami at least as large as some of the largest’ in the recorded history of Alaska, with the potential to affect the city of Whittier, an approximate 30 air miles away from the glacier.
The most noteworthy of these tsunamis was in 1958, when a landslide entered the Lituya Bay Fiord in Glacier Bay and generated a wave that went 1,700 feet up on the opposite side of the fiord.
The most recent was at Southeast Alaska’s Taan Glacier in 2015, where a wave went 600 feet up the opposite wall of the glacial valley.
Horrifyingly, the slides detailed by Masterman are believed to be at least a tenth of the size of landslide that could occur at Barry Arm.
With glaciers being thawed by the effects of global warming, such catastrophic landslides are emerging as a pressing threat, in Alaska and in other areas of the world such as British Columbia and Norway.
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