Mega-tsunami to destroy U.S. East Coast? – I’m not convinced

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After watching this video – which was supposed to convince me that a landslide on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands would trigger a mega-tsunami, I remain unconvinced.

This BBC documentary shows what happened in Lituya Bay, Alaska when a giant landslide triggered a 1500 foot high tsunami – almost half a kilometer high!

Then it tries to interpolate what would happen if a similar landslide occurred on the Canary Islands.


“Scattered across the world’s oceans are a handful of rare geological time-bombs,” goes the story. “Once unleashed they create an extraordinary phenomenon, a gigantic tidal wave, far bigger than any normal tsunami, able to cross oceans and ravage countries on the other side of the world.

“Only recently have scientists realised the next episode is likely to begin at the Canary Islands, off North Africa, where a wall of water will one day be created which will race across the entire Atlantic ocean at the speed of a jet airliner to devastate the east coast of the United States. America will have been struck by a mega-tsunami.”

“Every city from New York to Miami, would be destroyed.”

As I said, I remain unconvinced.

Do I believe that flank of the volcano could collapse into the sea? Yes I do.

Do I think that would trigger a tsunami that would destroy the U. S. East Coast? No I don’t.

Think about it. Lituya Bay, Alaska, is a very small area in relation to the Atlantic Ocean. If I drop a rock into a 5-gallon bucket, I’ll generate a small “tsunami” that will wash over the rim of the bucket. If I drop that same rock into a swimming pool, no one will notice any change.

And if I throw it into the ocean?

New Yorkers, this is just one man’s opinion, but I don’t think you need to lose any sleep over this.


24 thoughts on “Mega-tsunami to destroy U.S. East Coast? – I’m not convinced”

  1. There’s an excellent website that provides a devastating critique of the BBC hype, at As the site points out, the authors of the scary story, Ward/Day/McGuire, work for the Benfield Hazard Research Centre. To quote their wesbite … ‘BHRC is sponsored by Benfield, the world’s leading independent reinsurance intermediary and risk advisory business.’.

    The BBC program was effectively a 30 minute advertisement for the Hazard Industry. (A great way to market a product like insurance to frightened sheep in Florida, I’d say.)

  2. The massive stocking of food supplies by USNorthCom could very well be in preparation for a total collapse of the US economy.

  3. The wave would not be at that height (300m) in deep ocean. The poster that said the energy of the wave cant be more than the landslide is correct. I would only imagine a few meters arriving along the east coast. The 40m or 60m or so waves that emanated from Karaktoa in 1883 hit the coast of Java and Sumatra but dint go all over SE Asia. And that was a BIG bang! When the ocean pored into the magma chamber.

    1. The BBC (British BS Corporation) is known for this type of doc. Expected from an outfit that fully promotes AGW alarmism to its fullest doomsday outcome.

  4. If a volcano that is primarily underwater to begin with collapses, the water at the base is displaced, and the water closer to the surface rushes back to fill the space. Result: a set of waves, not one large wave like the Sumatran and Japanese tsunamis. As a New Yorker, I’m not worried.

  5. well I’m hearing now it’s all calming down according to their seismic website – less activity this afternoon. Well that’s it for that excitement for now. Lets have a few at the beach ^_^

  6. The total energy in the wave cannot exceed the total energy released by the landslide. A landslide is not the same as many miles of rock moving abruptly at a fault line during an earthquake or volcanic eruption. Much less energy, orders of magnitude less.

  7. Tsunamis in deep water are barely noticeable ripples. It is only when they reach shallow water, with all the continuing pressure behind it, does it rise up to make a wave. The Atlantic Ocean is deep. Coastal U.S. is not. But, considering that any tsunami created by a landslide in the Canary Islands (facing Northeast) would, though natural physics, tend to nearly become 360 degrees, thereby dissapiting some of the energy. But if the main thrust, so to speak, of the energy was aimed at the East Coast of the United States, then it’s quite possible that a killer tsunami would occur. It’s just hard to imagine 300 feet high and 600 miles per hour. But then, many of those disaster films are purposeful hyperbole. Who did the math regarding the amount of landslide material and at what speed would it hit the water, etc? If it fell nearly instantaneously, rather than slid in slowly, that would have a bigger effect, too.

  8. thanks. I feel much safer. I guess I can sleep at night rest assured knowing that no tsunami is likely.

    That’s great news !

  9. @ Tom – check out the book “Isaac’s Storm” about the hurricane that practically wiped Galveston off the map around 1900. I had just finished reading that book when Katrina was barreling toward New Orleans. When I heard the wind speed and barometric pressure and other stats, I told my family that Katrina would have an impact similar to Isaac’s Storm.

  10. Of course all the previously mentioned events were located reasonably close to the landfall site where the destruction occurred.

  11. Remember the Thailand, Indonesian, New Guinea and Japanese tsunami were all related to undersea events.

    They were all reasonably impressive and destructive.

  12. It is possible that the wave will disipate. The Atlantic ocean is a big place. So there is only one way to find out for sure and that is the hard way.

  13. It seems we have had some pretty fair sized chunks of ice break loose in the recent past and glaciers are always “calving” ( I think that is the terminology). Perhaps the scale is not the same, or the ice doesn’t impact the water as violently, but it seems if that landslide could cause a big wave, then some of these ice events would also. I don’t know,I have no credentials or expertise of any sort in this area, but am curious.

  14. Back before the turn of the last century, 1900, basically all there really is, is anecdotal information about disasters. There is no way to know if a hurricane driving up into the gulf coast such as Katrina had such devastating consequences. I well remember Hurricane Camille, not a particularly powerful hurricane when last checked by a hurricane hunter, plowing ashore as a cat 5 with over 200 mph winds. Who knows what other hurricanes have come assure in the US as cat 5s prior to 1900. Anecdotal information is all we have and any number of them might have been stronger then Katrina or even Camille.

    I seem to remember reading that it was believed many thousands of years ago the same sort of tsunami was generated by a collapsing island in the Canaries. And then there is Krakatoa. I read that the tidal gauge in New York harbor, I believe, registered a wave of nearly a foot from the explosion of that volcano. Remembering that the wave traveled the full width of the Indian Ocean, around the tip of Africa and traveled the distance from the cape to New York, not just “merely” the width of the Atlantic, to register on that gauge.

    Now, fast forward to now, and consider what is being mentioned here. Would I expect to see a wave plowing ashore in New York City at 300 feet of height traveling 600 miles per hour? Not only no, but hell no. Could a wave come ashore traveling at a tenth that speed and a tenth that height? I would say possibly yes. Would there be the destruction of the city from a wave of that nature? Not likely, but it would cause a helluva lot of damage coming in at high tide.

    Mike is right. You can’t live your life in fear of what might happen. But remember, we live in hope of a 240 million to 1 shot that we can win a lottery. The odds are probably 4 million to 1 that you will be hit by a meteor. We play long odds all the time, so live in fear? No. Live in hope. Whatever happens is going to happen, and just like the real climate change going on right now, there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it. But you are crazy if you let the fear of what might happen rule your life.

  15. Watched the video. It is clear that both the Bay scenario and the ‘model’ that the Swiss were using involve a channel scenario where the wave action is fed back off the sides of the channel. In the open sea, as the wave spread out in two dimensions and got wider as it spread, wouldn’t the energy get dispersed?

    1. Well… I think the energy will be dispersed. Look at the explosion of Santorini: it triggered a tsunami but it was a huge explosion and in the close basin of the Mediterranean. Despite the quantity of energy generated only the nearest coasts was interested by waves. In the open Atlantic Ocean the wave SHOULD disperse also because the activity of El Hierro should not lead to the formation of a caldera like Santorini.

  16. If one of the two currently active underwater volcanoes off El Hierro were too violently erupt would this be enough to cause a cataclysmic tsunami?

  17. If I understand correctly something very much like that scenario seems to have happened once already. The thing to realize is that one is dealing with a situation kind of like that posed by an iceberg. Most of the volcano in question is underwater. So when you have a significant chunk of the above water section of the volcano landslide it could very well keep on going causing a massive part of the underwater section of the volcano to slide also. It is the movement of the underwater portion of the volcano which would then be largely responsible for the tsunami effect. This is something that would be hard to measure/predict ahead of time.

    Regardless, that does not necessarily mean that anything of great consequence will happen this time around. It’s still something I would keep an eye on though if I lived in an area that could be affected. I’m sure that most of the residents of Pompei pretty much ignored the occasional rumblings and belching of their nearby volcano. Right up to the time it seriously erupted and buried them all in ash. The moral of the story is not to spend your entire life living in fear, but to realize that there may be events to which your best response is to leave the area as rapidly as possible. Make reasonable preparations ahead of time and keep half an eye open for such potential problems. Then get on with life.

    1. I agree, don’t live in fear….but if it happens, there will be no escape except for a very few. The warning time will be too short and the area of devastation too large. The Japanese Tsunami took minutes to destroy an area of Japan but greatly dissipated crossing the Pacific and they had many hour of notice. The Atlantic is much smaller so dissipation and time will be less. If you think getting out of NYC is tough during rush hour, try doing it when EVERYONE is panic stricken and desperate, most won’t make it. But why worry, it likely won’t happen in your lifetime.

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