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Devastating Tsunami Can Hit Hawaii

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A mega tsunami could hit Hawaii sometime within the next 50 years.  That is the conclusion from researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

A study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Solid Earth concluded that there was a 6-12 percent chance of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake near the Aleutian Islands.

Rhett Butler who led the study said that

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 chance might be.

It is expected that, should this event occur, residents in the Hawaiian islands will have about four hours to get to safety.  Butler went on to say that

The study wasn’t conducted to scare people, but to remind them to be prepared for the possibility of a catastrophic event and be prepared

A tsunami is also known as a “seismic sea wave”.  It is caused by the displacement of a large volume of water, generally via an earthquake in the ocean.  The earthquake generates a series of waves in the water that coalesce into a “wave train”.  Other natural activity that can trigger a tsunami include underwater landslides, volcanic eruptions, land or ice slumping into the ocean, rapid changes in atmospheric pressure and even impacts from meteorites.

A tsunami can be very destructive.  A 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was among the deadliest natural disasters with at least 230,000 people killed or missing.

Hawaii has no recorded history of a mega tsunami so the researchers tried to devise their model more precisely.  They validated it using data from the 5 largest tsunamis since 1900: Kamchatka, 1952; Chile, 1960; Alaska, 1964; Sumatra-Andaman, 2004;  Tohoku, 2011.  They also used evidence from geological samples.

A mega tsunami would cause about 40 billion dollars in damage and affect 400,000 residents and tourists.

Rhett Butler is a a geophysicist at the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

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