A Tsunami Could Hit the Caribbean

As the world mourns the devastation produced by the recent 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan, other countries stand in fear. Mexico, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guatemala have all issued alerts and have taken preventive measures. Many islands in the Caribbean are wondering whether something similar could happen in the region. Unfortunately, U.S. scientists predict that there is a serious risk of a devastating tsunami occurring in the Caribbean Sea off the coasts of Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They base their forecast on historical records. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

In an article in Eos, the newspaper of the American Geophysical Union, scientists Nancy Grindlay and Meghan Hearne of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and Paul Mann of the University of Texas, Austin said ten destructive tsunamis have been generated in the past 500 years by undersea earth movements along the boundary between the Caribbean and the North American tectonic plates – two of the great, moving slabs of rock that cover the ocean floor.

According to their calculations, that’s an average of one significant tsunami every 50 years. The most recent occurred in 1946 – sixty years ago – when a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in the Dominican Republican triggered a giant wave that killed 1,800 people. The scientists said the dates imply that another tsunami is already overdue, but added they can’t predict when it might happen.

An earthquake in that northern part of the Caribbean could generate waves up to 40 feet high and threaten the lives of up to 35.5 million people living in coastal areas. Smaller waves could reach Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and as far north as New Jersey.

George Pararas-Carayannis, former director of the International Tsunami Information Centre in Honolulu, Hawaii said that since 1489, in all 88 tsunamis – most of them moderate – have been reported in that part of the Caribbean which is located on an earthquake fault and ringed by volcanoes. [. . .] At least six Caribbean tsunamis are known to have killed people: in 1692, 1781, 1842, 1867, 1918 and 1946. The total death toll is unknown but at least 2,000 persons perished.

“More sobering than the historical record of tsunamis is the presence of large scale underwater landslide features that may have produced immense, prehistoric (before 1400 AD) tsunamis along the northern margin of Puerto Rico that were much larger than any of those known from 500 years of historical records,” the report said. Underwater landslides cause tsunamis by displacing large volumes of water, forcing it to surge upward in a powerful wave.

[. . .] Caribbean governments must link up with the governments of countries which have monitoring systems including equipment and seek to obtain, on a regular basis, information about developments as they pertain to natural occurrences be they hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis. In this case it is more than likely to be the USA, Venezuela, Colombia and some Central American countries. [. . .] The region must establish its own early warning system. And that is precisely what is on the agenda when a meeting takes place at UN House, Barbados this week.

For full article, see http://www.caribbean360.com/index.php/caribbean_weather/9948.html

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