Huge landslide triggered rare Greenland mega-tsunami

Jul 28, 2017

By Quirin Schiermeier

One of the tallest tsunamis in recorded history — a 100-metre-high wave that devastated a remote settlement in Greenland last month — was caused, unusually, by a massive landslide, researchers report.

Seismologists returning from studying the rare event hope that the data they have collected will improve models of landslide mechanics in glacial areas and provide a better understanding of the associated tsunami risks. They warn that such events could become more frequent as the climate warms.

The landslide occurred on the evening of 17 June, in the barren Karrat Fjord on the west coast of Greenland. It caused a sudden surge of seawater that wreaked havoc in the fishing village of Nuugaatsiaq, located on an island within the fjord about 20 kilometres away (see ‘Greenland tsunami’). The wave washed away eleven houses, and four people are presumed dead.

The slide was so large that it generated a seismic signal suggestive of a magnitude-4.1 earthquake, confounding initial efforts to identify its cause, says Trine Dahl-Jensen, a seismologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. But more careful examination indicated no significant tectonic activity just before the landslide.

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