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Boston, New England Area At Greatest Risk For Atlantic Tsunami, Seismologist Says

Apr 20, 2013 07:33 AM EDT

Though tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean are rare, if one were to happen, the New England region of North America would particularly at risk, according to a Boston College seismologist.

Earthquakes in the region are rare and weak, the last earthquake of magnitude 2.7 or greater in the New England area was October 16, 2012. But seismologists note that there has been a string of earthquakes in the past year at the edge of the continental shelf, about 170 miles offshore from Boston.

And that increase in seismic activity in the region makes experts wary that if a larger earthquake were to happen, then it may bring a tsunami to a region largely unprepared for one.

"I can't put a number on the chances of it happening, there's no way of knowing timing," said John Ebel, of Boston College's Weston Observatory, which studies earthquakes, according to U.S. News and World Report. "But when we have more frequent small earthquake activity, there's a greater chance of having a larger one in the future."

The news comes from the Seismological Society of America's annual meeting, which this week also heard a report claiming the volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park is much bigger than previously believed. 

The last time a significant tsunami happened along the North American east coast was in 1929 when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami to hit Canada, killing 27 and destroying thousands of homes, U.S. News stated. 

In order for a tsunami to cause major damage it would take an oceanic earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher, Ebel said. 

Ebel said that after analyzing decades of earthquake data, he thinks that the New England region between Nova Scotia and New Jersey is most at risk, as south of New Jersey there are few if any reports of earthquakes at the edge of the continental shelf. 

"I'm drawing an analogy from the 1929 area to this area that reaches to Boston," Ebel says. "Geologically, it looks the same. The earthquakes are occurring right at the edge of the continental shelf."

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