Scientists warn of an imminent catastrophic event
We humans have a lot of difficulty processing impending disasters. It is initially hard to wrap our minds around them because they don’t fit into the typical scheme of things.
We naturally deny such a thing with an internal “how could this ever happen?”
It is so surreal, and we wonder if it even exists.
While this is a normal response, it is often a lethal one when the disaster is taking place. This is why we need to consider hypothetical scenarios and what could potentially happen under current circumstances. And it gives us indicators to verify the legitimacy of such events if and when they materialize.
One such example of this is the potential occurrence of an Alaskan mega-tsunami that scientists are warning us about.
Scientists are very concerned about this mega-tsunami
Experts report that sometime within the next two decades, we can expect to witness a massive, catastrophic tsunami in Alaska. This will be triggered by a colossal rock landslide that is becoming unstable due to a glacier melting. Some fear it could take place within the next year.
In May 2020, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) received a formal warning from a group of scientists describing their concerns about this impending disaster taking in the Prince William Sound.
Although the risks surrounding a landslide like this are quite severe, there are many unknowns about the details. No one can establish precisely when or how this event might take place.
But they are very clear about how this glacier retreat is affecting the Prince William Sound — located on Alaska’s south coast. Some 60 miles east of Anchorage, the mountain slopes located above Barry Arm are seeing its impact right now.
Satellite images confirm concerns
Worries have been heightened from the analysis of satellite images of the region. They suggest that as this massive glacier retreats from Barry Arm due to melting, a gigantic rocky scar known as a scarp has appeared on the mountain’s face above.
This is evidence that a gradual, slow landslide is currently underway right above the fjord. Should this rock face suddenly break free, dire consequences could ensue. Even though the chances are remote at this point, it is a region that sees lots of water traffic via commercial shipping, recreational boating, and even cruise ships.
“It was hard to believe the numbers at first,” said one researcher, who is a geophysicist named Chunli Dai from the Ohio State University.
“Based on the elevation of the deposit above the water, the volume of land that was slipping, and the angle of the slope, we calculated that a collapse would release 16 times more debris and 11 times more energy than Alaska’s 1958 Lituya Bay landslide and mega-tsunami.”
If calculations from the research team are correct, such an event is unthinkable. Witnesses described the 1958 landslide as an atomic bomb explosion. Many believe this was the tallest tsunami wave ever seen in modern times, as it reached a height of 1,720 feet.
Comparisons to Alaska’s 1958 Lituya Bay landslide
A slope failure that occurred more recently was at Taan Fiord in 2015. This tsunami reached a height of 633 ft. Scientists also claim that numerous reasons cause slope failures like this.
“Slopes like this can change from slow creeping to a fast-moving landslide due to a number of possible triggers,” the ADNR report discusses.
“Often, heavy or prolonged rain is a factor. Earthquakes commonly trigger failures. Hot weather that drives thawing of permafrost, snow, or glacier ice can also be a trigger.”
Very little recent activity
Ever since the release of this report, subsequent analysis has revealed very little landmass activity on the slope. The report’s authors warn that this fact doesn’t tell the whole story.
This is because research has confirmed that the rock face has moved for at least 50 years. Sometimes the movement speeds up; other times, it slows down or even stops.
While subtle variations like these are still being evaluated, the prevailing opinion is that the velocity of this glacier’s retreat will increase the likelihood of more intense slope failures.
“When the climate changes, the landscape takes time to adjust,” said geologist Bretwood Higman from the nonprofit group Ground Truth Alaska, who was also a co-author of the May report.
“If a glacier retreats quickly, it can catch the surrounding slopes by surprise — they might fail catastrophically instead of gradually adjusting.”