Mega-tsunami may strike & devastate Hawaii within 50yrs – study

Naval officers monitoring the islands of Hawaii before an imminent hit by a tsunami following a powerful earthquake off Japan, in the port city of Valparaiso, 120 km northwest of Santiago. File photo. © Chilean Navy
There is a possibility that within the next 50 years, a large earthquake will hit Alaska and generate a tsunami that would cover Hawaii, leaving the island state in utter devastation.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have found that there is slight, but potential chance of about 6.5-12 percent that a 9+ magnitude earthquake will rock the Aleutian Islands and trigger a mega-tsunami that could easily reach Hawaii, disrupting its infrastructure and economy, the study published Friday in the Journal of Geophysical Research says.

“These are rare events. They don't happen all the time but there is a chance for them and our effort here is to try to define what that chance might be,” Rhett Butler, lead scientist in the study, a geophysicist at the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, told Hawaii News Now.

Butler and co-authors Neil Frazer and William Templeton from Portland State University created a numerical model based upon the basics of plate tectonics that allowed them to make such a calculation.

Looking at the data of previous earthquakes and tsunamis that followed with some of them occurring almost 500 years ago, the team says, the tsunami may affect nearly 400,000 residents and tourists and cause damages of $40 billion.

The team studied the information on the most powerful earthquakes that occurred during the last two centuries, which include Tohoku in 2011, Sumatra-Andaman in 2004, Alaska in 1964, Chile in 1960, and Kamchatka in 1952.

“These five events represent half of the seismic energy that has been released globally since 1900. The events differ in details, but all of them generated great tsunamis that caused enormous destruction,” Butler said.

The local population will have about four hours, scientists say, to get to safety once a tsunami is sent from an Aleutian Island quake.

The study is aimed at raising awareness among residents, not scaring them, Butler stressed.

The team is now collecting data for calculating the probability of smaller Pacific earthquakes.