Huge Alaska Landslide and Tsunami Linked to Climate Change

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180 million tons of rock generated a 600 foot high wave, according to UW Tacoma geoscientist Dan Shugar and colleagues, and climate change will likely lead to similar incidents.

Map of Taan Fiord in Alaska's Icy Bay. The site of the landslide/tsunami is outlined in red. Photo by National Park Service.Climate change helped create a massive landslide and tsunami in an Alaskan fjord. University of Washington Tacoma Assistant Professor Dan Shugar is part of an international team of researchers who recently released a landmark paper on the event in Nature Scientific Reports.

The October 2015 landslide, at the foot of the Tyndall Glacier, generated a tsunami that rose 600 feet and traveled as fast as 60 miles per hour. Shugar and the team of researchers believe rising temperatures caused glacial ice to melt. The ice had been helping to stabilize the walls of the fjord. Over time, as the glacier retreated and thinned, the sides of the fjord weakened and eventually collapsed sending an estimated 180 million tons of rock into the Taan fjord.

No one was injured in the landslide or resulting tsunami. However, the wave knocked down trees and destroyed vegetation along the shoreline. Researchers are concerned that climate change will cause more of these extreme events. A similar tsunami in Greenland killed four people. The Alaskan tsunami is thought to be the fourth-highest recorded in the past century.

Prior to the Taan fjord research, geoscientist Dan Shugar and colleagues discovered climate change played a role in the first known case of ‘river piracy’ in modern times, 125 miles away in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

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Written by: 
John Burkhardt / September 7, 2018
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu

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