Controversies in the Earth Sciences

Risk for an Atlantic tsunami?

tsunami hazard icon

First, I would like you to read an article that appeared in The Boston Globe following the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. Then, please read a short scientific paper detailing the tsunami threat from a source in the Canary Islands.


Reading assignment: two articles

Daley, B. (2007, December 28).N.E. is not immune, scientists warn. The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from

Ward, S., & Day, S. (2001). Cumbre Vieja Volcano -- Potential collapse and tsunami at La Palma, Canary Islands. Geophysical Research Letters, 28, 397-400.
(See also a press release from The Independent that accompanies the scientific article.)

The first article nicely introduces the topic for this lesson, which is whether or not you think a dedicated tsunami warning system should be developed for the Atlantic Ocean. The main reason I want you to read this article is that it brings up some topics that we will want to delve into further as this lesson goes along.

When you read the first article, keep in mind the following:

  • Has the Atlantic coast ever experienced a damaging tsunami?
  • If so, what was the source (e.g., earthquake, volcano, landslide)?
  • Do scientists have any estimates for the future risk of an Atlantic ocean tsunami?
  • Can you compare this to the risk of other natural disasters?
  • The Pacific Ocean does have a tsunami warning system. What's the difference between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans?
  • How are tsunamis produced in the first place?
  • How do tsunami warning systems work?

The second article is a scientific paper published in a journal. When you read this paper, keep in mind the following:

  • Does it answer any technical questions you had after reading the newspaper article?
  • Do you understand all the terminology? Keep a list of terms you don't know so we can discuss them.
  • Who is the intended audience for this paper, compared to the first article?
  • Can you give a summary of the scenario and tsunami that would result from a volcanic flank collapse such as the one detailed in this paper?

Tell us about it!

These articles do not answer all these questions, but these are the questions that I would ask if I read them without knowing anything else. What other questions do you have after reading these article? Please post any questions to the Questions? discussion board in Canvas.