Alaska Faces Major Tsunami Threat, Scientists Warn
As the climate crisis takes hold, the effects are noticed most conspicuously at the extremes like the poles and the desert, where the harsh environments are drastically altered by a changing climate.
A public letter signed by several scientists warns it's possible that the landslide and tsunami could happen "within the next year, and likely within 20 years," and detailed potentially devastating effects.
The scientists warn that an unstable, mile-long slope that sits above Prince William Sound, about 60 miles east of Anchorage, is supported only by a glacier in retreat. Warming temperatures have caused the ice to melt, leaving only one-third of the slope supported by ice. That means an earthquake, a heat wave, or prolonged heavy rain could trigger a landslide, according to The New York Times.
If the slope above Barry Glacier crumbled, it could impact tourism, fishing and hunting, according to the letter. It could also lead to 30-foot waves that reach the town of Whittier, 28 miles away across Prince William Sound, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The glacier's retreat "could release millions of tons of rock into the Harriman Fiord, triggering a tsunami at least as large as some of the largest in the state's recorded history," according to a statement from the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, as the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the state Department of Fish and Game responded to the warning from the scientists by issuing a warning that "strongly recommend people avoid all the identified danger zones until the hazards can be adequately understood and characterized," according to the Anchorage Daily News.
"As a hazard, it's really worrisome," said researcher, Hig Higman, who studies geological hazards and runs an organization called Ground Truth based in Seldovia, Alaska, to The New York Times.
The tsunami models produced by Patrick Lynett at the University of Southern California show a tsunami reaching hundreds of feet in elevation, with the ability to reach Whittier within 20 minutes. Other cities on the Prince William Sound, like Valdez and Cordova, could also see less destructive waves that may damage harbors and docks and threaten people in those areas, according to KTUU, Anchorage's NBC News affiliate.
The computer model shows that a collapse of the entire slope—roughly estimated to be 500 million cubic meters of rock and dirt, or several hundred times the volume of the Hoover Dam—may trigger a tsunami that starts out at several hundred feet high, according to The New York Times.
Since the slope has been moving for decades, the researchers estimated that the landslide is possible within a year and almost certain to happen within the next two decades. "It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," said Anna Liljedahl, an Alaska-based hydrologist with the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, who was part of the team, to The New York Times.
While the research has not yet been peer-reviewed, Liljedahl said the researchers wanted to get the information out to inform the public of a looming threat.
"We wanted to let the public know that there is a chance that this landslide might fail catastrophically," Liljedahl said, as the Anchorage Daily News reported. "There's also a chance that it might not."
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By Peter A. Kloess
Picture Antarctica today and what comes to mind? Large ice floes bobbing in the Southern Ocean? Maybe a remote outpost populated with scientists from around the world? Or perhaps colonies of penguins puttering amid vast open tracts of snow?
Giants of the Sky<p>As their name suggests, these ancient birds had sharp, bony spikes protruding from sawlike jaws. Resembling teeth, these spikes would have helped them catch squid or fish. We also studied another remarkable feature of the pelagornithids – their imposing size.</p><p>The largest flying bird alive today is the <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/group/albatrosses/" target="_blank">wandering albatross</a>, which has a wingspan that reaches 11 ½ feet. The Antarctic pelagornithids fossils we studied have a wingspan nearly double that – about 21 feet across. If you tipped a two-story building on its side, that's about 20 feet.</p><p>Across Earth's history, very few groups of vertebrates have achieved powered flight – and only two reached truly giant sizes: birds and a group of <a href="https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/pterosaurs-flight-in-the-age-of-dinosaurs/what-is-a-pterosaur" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reptiles called pterosaurs</a>.</p>
Full-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus on display at JuraPark in Baltow, Poland. Aneta Leszkiewicz / Wikimedia<p>Pterosaurs ruled the skies during the Mesozoic Era (252 million to 66 million years ago), the same period that dinosaurs roamed the planet, and they reached hard-to-believe dimensions. <a href="https://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-quetz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quetzalcoatlus</a> stood 16 feet tall and had a colossal 33-foot wingspan.</p>
Birds Get Their Opportunity<p>Birds originated while dinosaurs and pterosaurs were still roaming the planet. But when an <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-killing-asteroid-impact-chicxulub-crater-timeline-destruction-180973075/" target="_blank">asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago</a>, dinosaurs and pterosaurs both perished. Some <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-birds-survived-asteroid-impact-wiped-out-dinosaurs" target="_blank">select birds survived</a>, though. These survivors diversified into the thousands of bird species alive today. Pelagornithids evolved in the period right after dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, when competition for food was lessened.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/spp2.1284" target="_blank">The earliest pelagornithid remains</a>, recovered from 62-million-year-old sediments in New Zealand, were about the size of modern gulls. The first giant pelagornithids, the ones in our study, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75248-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">took flight over Antarctica about 10 million years later</a>, in a period called the Eocene Epoch (56 million to 33.9 million years ago). In addition to these specimens, fossilized remains from other pelagornithids have been found on every continent.</p><p>Pelagornithids lasted for about 60 million years before going extinct just before the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago). No one knows exactly why, though, because few fossil records have been recovered from the period at the end of their reign. Some paleontologists cite <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2011.562268" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change as a possible factor</a>.</p>
Piecing it Together<p>The fossils we studied are fragments of whole bones collected by paleontologists from the University of California at Riverside in the 1980s. In 2003, the specimens were transferred to Berkeley, where they now reside in the <a href="https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of California Museum of Paleontology</a>.</p><p>There isn't enough material from Antarctica to rebuild an entire skeleton, but by comparing the fossil fragments with similar elements from more complete individuals, we were able to assess their size.</p>
In life, the pelagornithid would have had numerous 'teeth,' making it a formidable predator. Peter Kloess, CC BY-NC-SA
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As U.S. Election Nears, Polling Shows 82 Percent of Voters Support 100 Percent Clean Energy Transition
By Jessica Corbett
With an estimated 66 million ballots already cast and only a week to go until Election Day, new polling released Tuesday shows the vast majority of U.S. voters believe the nation should be prioritizing a transition to 100% clean energy and support legislation to decarbonize the economy over the next few decades.
<div id="5206f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="584d1641628f692ff103aee7ed74b45e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1321080152328208384" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Biden should get "uncontrolled climate change would cost $486 trillion" tattooed on his forehead imo https://t.co/nTbVdHa9gD</div> — Emily Atkin (@Emily Atkin)<a href="https://twitter.com/emorwee/statuses/1321080152328208384">1603805027.0</a></blockquote></div>
Arctic Ocean sediments are full of frozen gases known as hydrates, and scientists have long been concerned about what will happen when and if the climate crisis induces them to thaw. That is because one of them is methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey has listed Arctic hydrate destabilization as one of the four most serious triggers for even more rapid climate change.