Devil’s Volcano Is Tsunami Risk to Caribbean Island

05 May 2009 | 05:49 Code : 19087 Geoscience events
An unstable volcano on the Caribbean island of Dominica risks causing a tsunami that....

An unstable volcano on the Caribbean island of Dominica risks causing a tsunami that could endanger 30,000 people on the nearby island of Guadeloupe, a team of U.K. researchers found. One flank of the volcano, called Morne aux Diables, or Devil’s Peak, shows signs of collapse and could send a million tons of rock into the sea, Richard Teeuw, a geologist at the University of Portsmouth, said today in a telephone interview. The collapse would produce waves up to 3 meters (10 feet) high, which would hit the coast of Guadeloupe, 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the north, within “minutes,” Teeuw’s team said in an e-mailed statement. That would endanger residents and tourists on the island, a French territory. “At some point in the past a large portion of this volcano collapsed into the sea, and more urgently, there’s a large chunk that looks set to drop in the near future,” Teeuw said. “You’d get a small tsunami, and you’d only have a few minutes warning in Guadeloupe.” Dominica isn’t the only volcanic island where landslides could trigger a tsunami. The collapse of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma could send up to 500 cubic kilometers (193 cubic miles) of rock tumbling into the Atlantic, sending waves as high as 25 meters across to the U.S. East coast, researchers at the University of California and University College, London, said in a study in 2001. A major earthquake of Magnitude 7 or 8 occurring near Dominica at the end of the hurricane season, when the soil has been loosened could be enough to trigger the landslide, Teeuw said, adding that Dominica itself and the island of Montserrat could also be affected by the resulting waves. “It could happen in 100 years or it could happen next week,” he said. The research is important because, while the Caribbean is used to hurricanes, it’s “relatively unprepared” for a tsunami, the scientists said. A December 2004 tsunami caused by an earthquake in Indonesia devastated coastal communities around the Indian Ocean, killing more than 200,000 people. “There’s a low level of awareness in this area of a landslide as a potential cause of a tsunami,” Teeuw said. the danger can be minimized “if you can reduce the vulnerability by making people aware, having local education programs, and having local refuges that are clearly signposted, he said. An initial collapse in Dominica could loosen another 3 million tons of rock farther up the slope, causing more landslides and triggering 5-meter waves, Teeuw said. That compares with waves as high as ten meters that occurred in the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, he said. Other volcanoes whose eruption or collapse has triggered tsunamis in the past include Italy’s Stromboli, and Krakatoa and Tambora in Indonesia, Teeuw said. Hawaii is another potential area where the phenomenon could occur, he said. The team carried out geological surveys and used three- dimensional images from Google Earth to draw their conclusions, which were published in the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union. An overland expedition is planned later this year, and a sub-sea survey is planned for 2010, Teeuw said.

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