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Wednesday August 29 11:34 AM ET

Scientists Warn of Possible Atlantic Monster Wave

Reuters Photo
Reuters Photo


By Susan Schlachter

LONDON (Reuters) - The eruption of a volcano in the Canary Islands could trigger a ``mega-tsunami'' that would devastate Atlantic coastlines with waves as high as 330 feet, scientists said on Wednesday.

They said an eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma, part of the Spanish island chain off West Africa, was likely to cause a massive chunk of rock to break off, crashing into the sea and kicking up huge walls of water higher than any other in recorded history.

The tsunami would be capable of traveling huge distances at up to 500 miles an hour, the scientists said in a research paper to be published in September's Geophysical Research Letters.

Simon Day, of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at the University College of London, said that as the volcano was not erupting at present, the short-term and medium-term risks were ``negligible.''

But Cumbre Vieja should be monitored closely for any signs of activity so that emergency services could plan an effective response, he said.

``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,'' said Day, who collaborated on the research with Steven Ward of the University of California.

``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 effects would spread north, west and south of the Canaries, with the west Sahara bearing the worst of the wave's energy.

The energy released by the collapse would be equal to the electricity consumption of the entire United States in half a year.

Immediately after the landslide, a dome of water 3,000 feet high and tens of miles wide would form, only to collapse and rebound.

As the landslide rubble moved deeper under water, a tsunami would develop. Within 10 minutes, the tsunami would have moved a distance of almost 155 miles.

On the west Saharan shore, waves would probably reach heights of 330 feet.

Florida and the Caribbean, the final north Atlantic destinations to be affected by the tsunami, would have to brace themselves for 165 foot waves some eight to nine hours after the landslide.

Wave heights toward Europe would be smaller, but substantial waves would hit the coasts of Britain, Spain, Portugal and France.

The research paper estimated water would penetrate several miles inland and that the devastation would cause trillions of dollars in damage.

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CORRECTED: Scientists Warn of Possible Atlantic Monster Wave (August 29)

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