Scientists Warn A Mega-Tsunami Could Devastate Hawaii In The Next 50 Years

Posted: May 15 2016, 9:22pm CDT | by , Updated: May 16 2016, 5:57am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Scientists Warm a Mega-Tsunami Could Devastate Hawaii in the Next 50 Years
Credit: R. Butler (left), Gerard Fryer (right), GoogleMaps (background)

The mega-tsunami in Hawaii could trigger by a massive earthquake of a magnitude of 9.0 or higher in the Aleutian Islands.

New research estimates that Hawaii could get struck by a mega-tsunami in the next 50 years. Though, chances are slim but the probability of a catastrophe event cannot be ruled out altogether. 

Researchers from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa suggest that an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 or higher could hit Aleutian Islands - powerful enough to generate mega-tsunami especially threatening to Hawaii. There are only 9% chances of such an event but if happen it would affect more than 300,000 people and cost more than $40 billion. 

“These are rare events. They don’t happen all the time but there is a chance for them and our effort here is to try to define what that change might be.” Rhett Butler, geologist and lead author of the study told Hawaii News Now.

Earthquakes are caused by the collision of tectonic plates. Tectonic plates are massive pieces of Earth’s crust and collisions between them occur along fault. These collisions cause to release energy and make the ground jolt. Hawaii comes in the subduction zone of Aleutian Islands which host a chain several small and larger volcanic islands. The disturbance on Aleutian Islands’ crust would have an impact on Hawaii as well.

Researchers started to study the risk of mega-tsunami in Hawaii four years ago after a strong earthquake and tsunami caused devastation in Japan in March 2011. Researchers created a numerical model based on the basics of plate tectonics: fault length and plate convergence rate.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Butler. “Having no recorded history of mega tsunami in Hawai'i, and given the tsunami threat to Hawai'i, we devised a model for magnitude 9 earthquake rates.”

To ensure the accuracy of the model, researchers looked at the massive earthquakes of Magnitude 9 or higher since 1900 and they include Tohoku (2011), Sumatra-Andaman (2004), Alaska (1964), Chile (1960) and Kamchatka (1952).

“These five events represent half of the seismic energy that has been released globally since 1900,” said Butler. “The events differed in details but all of them generated great tsunamis that caused enormous destruction.”

Researchers also looked at geological layers in coastal sediments, volcanic fragments and archeological sites to get an idea about prehistoric tsunamis. With this model, researchers were able to estimate the chances of a mega-tsunami in Hawaii. The worst-case scenario for Hawaii is 3.5 percent in the next 50 years.

Researchers believe their study can help officials to better prepare for any such devastating event in future. They are  also aiming to extend the analysis to smaller earthquakes of magnitude 7 to 8 around the Pacific. 

The research was published in Journal of Geophysical Research.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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