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Monday, October 22, 2012
Scientists Warn Of Massive Tidal Wave From Canary Island Volcano
By Steve Connor
The Independent - London
A wave higher than Nelson's Column and travelling faster than
a jet aircraft will devastate the eastern seaboard of America and inundate much
of southern Britain, say scientists who have analysed the effects of a future
volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands.
A massive slab of rock twice the
volume of the Isle of Man would break away from the island of La Palma and smash
into the Atlantic Ocean to cause a tsunami - a monster wave - bigger than any
recorded, the scientists warned yesterday.
Most of the wave's energy,
equivalent to the combined output of America's power stations for six months,
would travel westwards to the American coast but enough would be flicked north
towards the English Channel to cause catastrophic coastal damage.
computer model has been designed to show the way the tsunami will build after
the volcano, called Cumbre Vieja, erupts on La Palma, at the western end of the
Spanish island chain. It describes the almost unimaginable scale of an event
that the scientists say could happen at any time within the foreseeable
"We're looking at an event that could be decades or a century
away - but there will be a degree of warning beforehand," said Simon Day, of the
Benfield Greg Hazard Reseach Centre at Univeristy College London.
the rocky western flank of Cumbre Vieja is unstable enough to be dislodged in
the next big eruption of the volcano, which is active enough to explode at least
once or twice a century. Its last big event was in 1949.
Such a landslide
from a future eruption could travel up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) from La
Palma's coast, causing the formation and then collapse of a dome of water 900
metres (3,000ft) high and tens of kilometres wide. The bow of this collapsing
dome of water would become a giant wave, but also, as the landslide continued to
move underwater, a series of crests and troughs would soon generate the "wave
train" of the tsunami.
With the leading wave in front and crests pushing
it on behind, it would sustain the power for the nine-hour journey to the
American east coast.
Tsunami means harbour wave in Japanese and, though
the occurrence has nothing to do with the tides, it is often called a tidal wave
in English. Throughout history they have caused widespread devastation, with
Britain last being affected by one in 1755 when an earthquake in Lisbon caused
an unusually large wave to hit southern ports.
The computer model,
compiled in collaboration with Steven Ward of the University of California,
Santa Cruz, predicts that the tsunami will have a height of 100 metres (330ft)
from crest to trough when it crashes into the shores of nearby north-west
Africa. By the time it reached its final destination, the east coast of Florida
and the Caribbean islands, the tsunami would still be up to 50 metres
Low-lying land in Florida would be vulnerable to a sea wave that
would inundate the mainland for several kilometres inland. Everything in its
path would be flattened, the computer model predicted.
Even though the
wave would be much smaller when it reached Britain, it would still breach sea
defences because it would be larger than the biggest storm waves for which they
were designed, Dr Day said. "For low-lying land along the south coast it could
penetrate up to a mile," he said.
Although there is little doubt that the
landslide on La Palma will happen after a volcanic eruption, the difficulty is
knowing exactly when it will occur. "Eruptions of Cumbre Vieja occur at
intervals of decades to a century or so and there may be a number of eruptions
before its collapse," Dr Day said. "Although the year-to-year probability of a
collapse is therefore low, the resulting tsunami would be a major disaster with
indirect effects around the world."
The scientists are calling for better
warning instruments to be placed on La Palma so that an impending eruption can
be detected quickly enough to alert other areas that might be affected by a
"Cumbre Vieja needs to be monitored closely for any signs of
impending volcanic activity and for the deformation that would precede collapse.
The collapse will occur during some future eruption after days or weeks of
precursory deformation and earthquakes," Dr Day predicted.
earthquake monitoring system could provide advanced warning of a likely collapse
and allow early emergency management organisations a valuable window of time in
which to plan and respond," he said.
A history of tsunamis
Pacific Ocean is prone to earthquake-induced tsunamis caused by the so-called
ring of fire volcanoes that girdle it. Ten lethal big waves have struck Japan,
Hawaii, Alaska, Chile, Nicaragua and New Guinea over the past 100
One of the most terrifying tsunamis occurred in 1792 when part of
the Unzen volcano in Japan collapsed into the sea, setting up 100m (330ft) waves
that killed 15,000 people in nearby fishing villages.
In 1868, a powerful
tsunami killed 10,000 people when it smashed into the coast of Peru with enough
energy to carry an American warship 3km (1.9m) inland.
Indonesian volcano of Krakatoa blew itself apart in 1883, it generated a wave
that killed 36,000 inhabitants of Java and Sumatra.
Just 13 years later,
in 1896, Japanese deep-water fishermen returned to their home ports to find
their homes destroyed and 26,000 dead from a tsunami that must have slipped
below the keels of their ships without them noticing.
Britain may be hit by a monster wave predicted to devastate
the coasts of Florida and Brazil following a volcanic eruption in the Canary
Scientists warn that the UK would probably not escape the
disaster unscathed. A weaker, but still hugely destructive, wave is likely to
hit Britain's Atlantic coastline.
Travelling at speeds of up to 500mph, the tsunami would be an
Its first target was expected to be the West Saharan coast of
Morocco, where the wave would measure an awesome 330ft from crest to
But the built up coastal areas of Florida, Brazil and the
Caribbean were expected to suffer the greatest destruction, according to a new
forecast by Dr Simon Day, of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at
University College London.
Here, the wave would reach heights of 130ft to 164ft - higher
than Nelson's column - and travel four or five miles inland flattening
everything in its path.
Previous research by Dr Day predicted that a future eruption
of the Cumbre Vieja volcano was likely to cause the western flank of the
mountain to slide into the sea.
The energy released by the collapse would be equal to the
electricity consumption of the entire US in six months.
Working with Dr Steven Ward, from the University of
California, Dr Day has now produced a new model which predicts more accurately
how big the tsunami will be and where it will strike.