Tsunami Risk on Atlantic Coast

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

American scientists say they have discovered breaks or cracks on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean that could be a threat to coastal areas of the eastern United States. Scientists say these cracks may be early warning signs of underwater landslides. They say underwater landslides could cause a series of huge, destructive ocean waves, also known as tsunamis. Tsunami means "harbor wave" in Japanese.

Researchers say they discovered a series of cracks along the ocean floor about ninety-six kilometers from the Atlantic coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. The cracks were found along an area about forty kilometers wide. Scientists say if a tsunami does take place, the coastal areas of North Carolina and southern Virginia would be most at risk.

Scientists estimate that the waves caused by a possible underwater landslide could be more than six meters high. They say the force of the waves would be similar to that created by a severe ocean storm.

Tsunamis usually are caused by earthquakes. But landslides on the ocean floor also can cause the huge ocean waves. Tsunamis usually strike a coastal area without much warning.

Experts say ocean waves caused by a tsunami can travel as fast as seven-hundred-twenty-five kilometers an hour. And, the waves can be more than thirty meters high as they move toward land.

Tsunamis are most common in the Pacific Ocean. Japan has had the most tsunamis. In the past hundreds of years, one-hundred-thousand people have been killed by tsunamis in Japan. Two years ago, more than two-thousand people died when a tsunami struck Papua New Guinea.

Tsunamis also have happened in the Atlantic Ocean. In Nineteen-Twenty-Nine, fifty-one people died when a tsunami struck Newfoundland, Canada. Scientists say the underwater landslide in that case was about the same size as the one that could happen off the coast of Virginia. Neal Driscoll is a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the eastern state of Massachusetts. He and a team of scientists are investigating the risk of a tsunami on the eastern coast of the United States. They are examining the cracks using special equipment. They want to find out how recently the cracks opened and how soon a tsunami might take place.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English