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ALERT: Large Submarine Landslide on Great Bahama Bank Could Increase Tsunami Risk in Florida, Cuba

Dec 15, 2016 04:10 AM EST

A new study revealed that a large submarine landslide on the slopes of the Great Bahama Bank could potentially generate hazardous tsunami waves several meters high along the east coasts of Florida and northern Cuba.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that even smaller earthquakes could generate tsunamis by triggering a submarine landslide along the slopes of the western Great Bahama Bank -- the largest of the carbonate platforms that make up The Bahamas archipelago.

"Our study calls attention to the possibility that submarine landslides can trigger tsunami waves," said Jara Schnyder, a student at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and lead author of the study, in a press release. "The short distance from the slope failures to the coastlines of Florida and Cuba makes potential tsunamis low-probability but high-impact events that could be dangerous."

For the study, the researchers used multibeam bathymetry and seismic reflection data to identify margin collapses and submarine landslides along the slopes of western Great Bahama Bank. The researchers found landslides in the area that were several miles long and have a landslide mass that can slip up to 12 miles into the basin.

Additionally, the researchers discovered a nearly 70 miles incipient failure scar. This scar could be triggered by any of the earthquakes that occasionally occur off the coast of Cuba and can be a potential site of landslide.

Applying mathematical models commonly used to evaluate tsunami potential in the U.S., the researchers simulated multiple scenarios where submarine landslide along the slope of the Great Bahama Bank produce tsunami waves. Their simulations showed that submarine landslide and margin collapse in the region could generate dangerous ocean currents and possibly trigger a tsunami wave several meters high along the east coast of Florida and northern Cuba.

With their findings, the researchers warned the residents near the coastal areas of Florida and Cuba to always be ready and aware that even smaller earthquakes could result to a tsunami several meters high.

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