A collapsing volcano in the Atlantic could unleash a giant wave of water that would swamp the Caribbean and much of the eastern seaboard of the United States

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Giant wave could threaten US

Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK ) 2000

A collapsing volcano in the Atlantic could unleash a giant wave of water that would swamp the Caribbean and much of the eastern seaboard of the United States, a scientist has claimed.

Dr Simon Day, of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at University College London, UK, believes one flank of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries archipelago, is unstable and could plunge into the ocean.

Swiss researchers who have modelled the landslide say half a trillion tonnes of rock falling into the water all at once would create a wave 650 metres high (2,130 feet) that would spread out and travel across the Atlantic at high speed.

The wall of water would weaken as it crossed the ocean, but would still be 40-50 metres (130-160 feet) high by the time it hit land. The surge would create havoc in North America as much as 20 kilometres (12 miles) inland.

Dr Day told BBC Science's Horizon programme: "This event would be so huge that it would affect not only the people on the island but people way over on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean - people who've never heard of La Palma.

Destructive power

His latest work on the subject has been published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

On the back of this work, the Geological Society of London is to write to the UK science minister, Lord Sainsbury, to make him aware of the dangers posed by so-called mega-tsunami in the Atlantic.

The society hopes he will take the issue as seriously as he has the threat from asteroid strikes.

Scientists have known of the destructive power of tsunami - huge tidal waves - for many centuries. As recently as 1998, over 2,000 people were killed by a large wave hitting the coast of Papua New Guinea.

This was caused by an offshore earthquake. But researchers believe far bigger phenomena can be created by giant landslides.

The largest wave in recorded history, witnessed in Alaska in 1958, was caused by the collapse of a towering cliff at Letuya Bay. The resulting wave was higher than any skyscraper on Earth and gouged out soil and trees to a height of 500 metres (1,640) feet) above sea level.

Summit eruptions

Geological studies have found evidence of giant landslides elsewhere in the world such as Hawaii, the Cape Verde Islands and Riunion in the Indian Ocean.

Dr Day has identified dozens of volcanic vents in the Cumbre Vieja volcano that have been formed by successive eruptions over the past 100,000 years.

He thinks water trapped between dykes of impermeable rock could create pressures that eventually lead to the western flank of the mountain falling away during some future eruption.

Hermann Fritz, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which has equipment to model waves created by landslides, said: "If the Cumbre Vieja were to collapse as one single block, it would lead to a giant mega-tsunami with an initial wave height of 650 metres.

"It would have a wavelength of 30 to 40 kilometres (18 to 25 miles) travelling westwards across the Atlantic at speeds up to 720 km/h (450 mph) towards America."

But researchers caution that such a catastrophe may not occur for many decades.

"There could be five more summit eruptions of the Cumbre Vieja before the western flank collapses," said Professor Bill McGuire, of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre.

"There could be 10 or there could be 20 - we simply don't know. But put it this way: if I was living in Miami or New York and I heard that the Cumbre Vieja was erupting, I would keep a very close eye on the news."

Dr Simon Day's work is featured in a Horizon programme to be broadcast on BBC Two on Thursday, 12 October.

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), October 04, 2000


Just another Onion put-on folks. Hang ten.

-- (surfin_dude@Oahu.north), October 04, 2000.


Lemee grab my board and I'm down on it!

-- Jeff Spicoli (most@awesome.dude), October 05, 2000.

When I first read that the wave would be 2000 feet tall I was worried. But since it will only be 130-160 feet high when it hits land I feel better now. ;-)

At least being crushed by tens of thousands of tons of water and debris would be a quick death. Since I am only 5 miles from the coast I am pretty sure it would kill me. Oh well, bound to happen one way or another someday.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeed@yahoo.com), October 05, 2000.

What kind of attitude is that, Unk? Be a leader! Take a stroll through the neighborhood for the next few evenings. Knock on doors. Alert your neighbors to the fact that disaster is possible. Stockpile! Prepare! Let that Paul Revere in you ooze to the surface (keyword: ooze).

-- Bingo1 (howe9@shentel.net), October 05, 2000.

I do question simulations but something similar did happen in a town in Italy, a report on the discovery or learning channel. Some years ago, they built a dam creating a lake surrounded by very unstable land. Even though the soils engineer found no problems in the mountain side, there were varying strata that couldn't support additional loads. They did notice quakes on occasion and decided to lower the water level each time. This seemed to help at first but in the end actually caused the landslide. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, a huge chuck of land slid into the lake, causing a great wave that totally wiped out the nearby village, no survivors. Lots of lessons learned on that mistake.

-- Maria (anon@ymous.com), October 05, 2000.

ooze, not BOOZE? I say stockup stockup man I say!!!!

um, sorry I dont know 'what' came over me....I couldnt resist.


-- consumer (shh@aol.com), October 05, 2000.

Well Lesse, I'm in the number six town in the country for cancer, ...and less than a mile from the beach. Got a nuke plant right over there (pointing) and essentially one way off the island. Hmm...I seem to be in good shape.

Really, I have nightmares all the time about tidal waves hitting in the middle of the night, and all the horrors that go with those kinds of dreams, but I always manage to swim out of my house and onto some tree, rescuing my children and dogs while I'm at it. We find some boat drifting by, and get to safety, every time.

I'm assuming my subconcious is trying to convince me I could live through anything, but in reality, I'm hoping like Unc it would be a quick kill. Moving is going to be out of the question for a few more years, so we'll just have to make some sacrifices to these underground volcanos and whatnot until then.

(Tossing burnt offerings into the ocean..)

-- kirsten (kritter@adelphia.net), October 05, 2000.

Good deal. Mountain top land, cheap. Tsunami proof but ccasional tornados.

-- (GN@Ozark.TrailerPark), October 05, 2000.

The more I think about it the less I am worried. We have the Bahamas to take the brunt of the hit for us. That should reduce the hit quite a bit.

I just can't go to the beach anymore.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeed@yahoo.com), October 05, 2000.

OHHHHHHHHHHHHHh that was FOUL uncle :-)

Real foul!!!!

And anyways I dont think it'll happen before next weekend anyhow!!!

Your just jealous cuz I;m going to Atlantis and you arent!!!


-- consumer (shh@aol.com), October 06, 2000.


The plankton! The krill! The big old giant underwater door!

People really get down there!

Zappa reference. Name the song ya win a prize (all taxes are the sole responsibility of the prizewinner).

-- Bingo1 (howe9@shentel.net), October 06, 2000.

Darn, it bingo!!!

Having been married to a DJ, you'd think I'd of known the answer to that one....

come on, give me some help here.

-- consumer (shh@aol.com), October 06, 2000.


I just can't go to the beach anymore.

You won't need too. Sounds like the beach will come to you.

Best wishes,,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (Z1X4Y7@aol.com), October 06, 2000.

I think you are onto something there.

By my highly scientific research I have concluded that the wave, if 160 feet tall, will lap at my front door. Hopefully the receding water will take all of the flotsom back out to sea with it, as I will be in no mood to remove dead bodies from the front yard of my newly established beachfront home. A damned nice wide beach at that.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeed@yahoo.com), October 06, 2000.

Most Honored Uncle Sir,

You won't be killed by the crushing weight of tons of water upon your esteemed self. You'll be killed by the winds rushing ahead of the wave. Most likely you'll be smashed into bits or impaled or both and be quite dead before your tattered remains even get wet.

Unless you're swimming at the beach when it happens.

-- helen (lost@lost.lost), October 06, 2000.

One obvious preventative measure would be to carefully move parts of that unstable side of Cumbre Vieja until it no longer was in danger of collapse.

Lessee ... amount to move = "half a trillion tonnes" = 5 * 10^11 tonnes. (1 tonne = about 2200 lbs.)

Time = "many decades", but "we simply don't know". Hmmm ... let's say 50 years, just to generate some urgency about this. There are about 31 million seconds in a year. Deduct about 3% for the work interruptions caused by the intervening 5, 10, or 20 summit eruptions, so that's 30 million seconds available working time per year -- on average, that is. In 50 years, that's 1.5 * 10^9 seconds.

So, we gotta move about (5 * 10^11)/(1.5 * 10^9) == ~300 tonnes of rock per second, on average, day and night for half a century, in order to whittle down that threatening landslide.

-- No Spam Please (nos_pam_please@hotmail.com), October 06, 2000.

"What do you mean, 'we', paleface?" -- infamous punchline from mid-20th century U.S.

-- No Spam Please (nos_pam_please@hotmail.com), October 06, 2000.

So many people. So few tidal waves. Who said that?

-- gilda (jess@listbot.com), October 07, 2000.

No one needs to worry about a polluting volcano. Al Gore will save everyone from most certain death and destruction.

-- ~~~~~~~ (~~~~@~~~~.com), October 07, 2000.

Al Gore invented volcanos...he can take them back...

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), October 07, 2000.

That was a good one Uncle Bob!

-- ~~~~~~~~ (~~~~~@~~~~~~.com), October 07, 2000.

Our problems create our opportunities. Here's what we do.... mobilize our best scientific talent in a 21st century Manhatten Project that enables us to capture the googol-watts of energy contained in the tsunami.

This project will provide employment for millions of Americans for the next 8 years and will also solve our energy crisis. I will personally direct a new streamlined Federal agency that coordinates this vital work with further developement of my Internet.

-- (Al@1600.Pennsylvania), October 08, 2000.

Good to see "No Spam" and Gilda! Never know where a thread will lead.

Uh, No Spam, I'm busy that weekend of the move, but I'll be there in spirit...

-- Bingo1 (howe9@shentel.net), October 08, 2000.

I just shared the 'good news' with my sister who is currently living in Sandiego and will be moving to Tampa area in about 6 weeks.

She is THRILLED to know that she no longer must worry about falling into the sea, and that the Sea will be coming to her.

ROFL.....I could 'not' resist sharing the news with her as she will be living in a condo right on the ocean.

-- consumer (shh@aol.com), October 08, 2000.

Just another reason I live in NM (5300' above sea level) : )

Ya'll need some life preservers??? (snicker)

watchin' the tide roll in...

The Dog

-- The Dog (dogdesert@hotmail.com), October 08, 2000.

The Dog,

Hate to tell you this, but you've got volcanic activity to think about, say, the Malpais & the Bandero volcano near I-40, west of Albuquerque. Not active "recently", but within the last 1,000 years. Death by roasting or brining, take your pick...

-- Deb M. (vmcclell@columbus.rr.com), October 08, 2000.

Yep, Deb M. -- could happen any minute now. Historically, there is a volcanic eruption in what is now the American Southwest about every 1000 years. The last eruption was at Sunset Crater, near Flagstaff, AZ, in 1066 (an easy date to remember for obvious reasons).

So, I'd say we're about 50 years overdue for a big one.

Hope it erupts right below Glen Canyon Dam.

-- E.H. Porter (Just Wondering@about.it), October 08, 2000.

I'll take frying to drowning anyday ... : )

Aw E.H., you don't like Lake Powell??? I mean there are some really beuatiful canyons they drowned, but you want to see them now, with all the lost lures, catfish shit, sunken boats and crap all over them? Hell, wait a few years and Glen Canyon Dam will fall down of its own accord...

watchin' the fireball...

The Dog

-- The Dog (dogdesert@hotmail.com), October 08, 2000.

Hey, Dog -- Yep, Glen Canyon Dam is not my favorite. I love to hike those Canyons (doing 10 days in the Grand Canyon in two weeks), and I've always thought that Glen Canyon Dam was one of the major enviromental tragedies of the 20th century.

With regard to the concept that "Hell, wait a few years and Glen Canyon Dam will fall down of its own accord..." --

Unfortunately, that won't happen in my life time. It almost fell in the floods of the mid-1980's; they are now wise to that trick. It will eventually fill up with silt, but not for a long time.

-- E.H. Porter (Just Wondering@about.it), October 08, 2000.

George Washington Hayduke and Seldom-seen Smith are my heros...

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), October 08, 2000.

Way Cool Uncle Bob -- the monkey wrench gang!

Do you live in that area? Do you hike in that area?

-- E.H. Porter (Just Wondering@about.it), October 08, 2000.

Grew up in the 4 corners (Farmington, Tec-nos-pos, Red Mesa, Flagstaff, Cederedge, Co)...my son was born in Flagstaff in 1984...have hiked rim-to-rim in the Canyon all my life. Been on LP more times than I can remember. Ed Abby is my hero, have an autographed copy of Monkey Wrench Gang (Ed Crumb, the artist signed too) I bought at the swamper in Moab (they run bologna-boats from Moab to LP). Spent a lot of time at Glen Canyon as a kid before 1963 rolled around...

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), October 08, 2000.

Rim to Rim is interesting, but I first did it in 1972, and have done it many times since.

Right now, the current project is to hike from Swamp Point (North Bass Trail Head) to Monument Point (Tapeats Trail Head), below Powell Plateau and below the Rim. Should take about 10 days, most of it off trail. Start date is in two weeks; wish us luck!

Interesting who you meet on the Web, is it not?

-- E.H. Porter (Just Wondering@about.it), October 08, 2000.

E.H. Porter

Try Saddle Mountain sometime, late summer-early fall is best. North Rim side, past the gas station/market, turn south-east on gravel. Logger track continues past the end of the road, take it. Great views, great wildlife, great off-trail hikes.

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), October 08, 2000.

E.H and Uncle Bob:

Good to see other Canyon rats. I've hiked rim-to-rim twice and did the Clear Creek Canyon route once. I did the Hance a few years ago and I won't be doing that one again soon - way tougher than rim-to- rim. I've also gone down the Canyon on paddle rafts for 16 days in October of 1987 just before the Great Crash. Either of you ever hiked up Phantom Canyon? Great little hike there. E.H., it sounds like you've got a nice trip mapped out. Let us know how it went when you get back...and watch out for those little pink rattlers :^)

-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), October 09, 2000.

Jim and Uncle Bob -- I'm also surprised to see so many Canyon rats here. Any idea why? -- do you guys live in that area? I've got to commute many miles.

And, Jim, I hear you on Hance. I've done it about three times, but the last was with my signficant other. She was NOT amused at all, and has done a lot of hiking. She broke down in tears on the Redwall section.

You've got to admit, however, that the beach at Hance Rapid is worth the price of admission. And -- if you want to do some really intimidating hiking -- try the OLD Hance trail (goes up Hance Canyon, rather than Red Canyon)

Uncle Bob -- Not sure where Saddle Mountain is. Our current hike, however, ends at Monument Point (Tapeats Trail). This is near Big Saddle Camp. Any connection?

Way cool to hear that there are other Canyon people here.

-- E.H. Porter (Just Wondering@about.it), October 12, 2000.

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