Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The landlocked Swiss could be threatened by “lake tsunamis”

The landlocked Swiss could be threatened by “lake tsunamis”

Tsunamis are known to wreak havoc on island nations and coastal cities across the globe, but a landlocked country like Switzerland is probably the last place you’d expect to have to worry about one. However, tsunamis have been known to occur in lakes as well, and the giant waves in these enclosed bodies of water can cause significant damage to coastal settlements.

As with tsunami in the ocean, lake tsunamis are caused by an earthquake under the water. As rocks and sediments shift, huge waves begin slashing around in the enclosed lake. “The same source placed inside a lake can have a bigger impact than along the coast of an open ocean,” Hermann Fritz, a tsunami research, tells Nature.

There have been deaths as a result of lake tsunamis in the past, such as the tsunami at Lake Yanawayin in Peru in 1971, where 400 to 600 people died. Geologists are well aware of the risk of tsunamis in large lakes that are near fault lines, such as Lake Tahoe in California. However, it wasn’t until two years ago that the alpine lakes of Switzerland were singled out for tsunami risk.

The risk of lake tsunamis in Switzerland was brought to attention by limnogeologist Katrina Kremer and her colleagues when they published an unsettling study about a tsunami that wiped out the area around Lake Geneva in the year 563. Kremer’s team has studied lakebed sediment cores and identified a total of five likely tsunamis in Lake Geneva over the last 4,000 years. While the risk is small, it’s still common enough to be worrying.

Read more about the story at Nature.

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