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Rutgers Scientist: Tsunami A Real & Devastating Possibility on the Shore

Experts warn that the Jersey Shore isn't prepared for a tsunami

For almost a week, the world has watched in horror as Japan has dealt with the effects of both a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and a large tsunami that struck shortly afterward.

A tsunami can occur in any large body of water. That leaves the question: could one happen here?

Dr. Alexander Gates serves as the chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark, and is co-author of the book, "Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes New Edition". He explains that tsunamis can form almost anywhere under the right circumstances.

"Tsunamis form when something offsets the seafloor. It's like it builds a step in the ocean surface, and the whole water column is lifted up, and then it clears off," he said. "Anything from an earthquake to a meteorite could generate this big wave, and cause phenomenal damage after it comes ashore."

 According to Gates there is no historical record of a large scale tsunami hitting the Jersey Shore, but he warns that one is still possible.  He even suggests that a 'doomsday scenario' is a realistic possibility because of a volcano over 3,500 miles away.

 "There's a volcano in the Canary Islands called Cumbre Vieja, and if that has a landslide, trouble will begin. If the side gives way, and it slides into the ocean, it could generate a big wave that would devastate the east coast," he said. "The volcano has been there a long time, and it hasn't happened yet, but it's a realistic possibility."

Meteorologist Steven DiMartino of NyNjPaweather.com, warns of another doomsday scenario. "If a large chunk of land off Africa falls off into the Atlantic, (and it's expected to do so in the next hundred years) it would be catastrophic to the east coast," he wrote in an email.

Gates worries about a lack of preparedness on the East Coast. "We're not prepared at all for a tsunami. If one hit today, it would be as devastating as the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean in December 2004. We're not prepared, and we have a larger population. It would be absolutely catastrophic, and like nothing we've ever seen before" he said.

And, the East Coast doesn't have a complex warning system in the event of a tsunami. "Nobody was more prepared for this sort of event than Japan was, and we're watching them struggle with the after effects. We're not even close here. We don't have a strong enough system, at all, " Gates warned.

The National Weather Service sponsors a program called TsunamiReady. To become a certified community, the city must establish a formal tsunami plan.  In addition, they must hold emergency exercises like planning ways to develop and distribute warnings.  Although TsunamiReady could drastically help in an emergency situation, it reports that only 83 sites in the United States were "tsunami ready" as of March 2. The closest site to Toms River is Norfolk, VA.

As for fears of an earthquake, it has been years since New Jersey has been affected by one right off our coast. Gates referenced an quake in 1929 that hit Southern Canada. "People in Canada were killed after the resulting tsunami, and there was another way back in 1889 in Charleston, SC. Residents along the coast have to purchase tsunami insurance there," he said.

Experts say that it would be a little naive to assume that the Earth has entered an active earthquake pattern. Dr. John Ebel heads the Weston Observatory at Boston College, and says that just because one hit (Japan) doesn't mean that we're more likely to see future quakes. "We have seen several large quakes in recent years. But earthquakes could happen at anytime, really," he said in an interview.

BN March 18, 2011 at 01:51 AM
The Cumbre Vieja doomsday model had been debunked many times over: http://www.lapalma-tsunami.com/ Can we please dispense with the fear-mongering already?
want2say March 18, 2011 at 03:22 AM
i wonder how far and "average" (!) tsunami would go inland?? [shudder]
Vincent2486 March 18, 2011 at 11:08 AM
BN, let me guess you work for canary islands tourist industry ? are the same person who has spamming the internet with that bogus website that is in the interest for the island? are you that selfish and delusional you won't even consider this a possible threat and danger to many people?
BN March 18, 2011 at 11:47 AM
Vincent: I guess you didn't read this site's policy on personal attacks? I'm not delusional, I'm rational...unlike those in the media who have whipped the west coast into a potassium iodide-buying frenzy causing a shortage.
George March 18, 2011 at 02:35 PM
A tsunami here? That's as impossible as a problem with one of those ultra-safe, ultra-clean nuclear reactors.
adam March 18, 2011 at 04:08 PM
On average, a tidal wave would reach an elevation of several feet above its height. The waves speed, the tide and topography are all factors. The east coast would have much more time to evacuate than japan did.
Carol Aller March 18, 2011 at 10:11 PM
I don't believe that to be so, at least not here. And a hit on NYC would be catastrophic. It's very flat here in Toms River and water surrounds Toms River everywhere from Fischer Blvd and Silverton to the Toms River itself. BTW...there was an earthquake in NJ just a few years ago in the middle of the Delaware River in the small town of Milford, NJ. The fault line runs under the river. It damaged the firehouse and a few other buildings and things fell everywhere; it was on all the news casts.
BN March 18, 2011 at 11:19 PM
Toms River Elevations (feet above sea level) Huddy Park 1 ft. Cattus Island 4 ft. Ocean County Mall 50 ft. TR South 35 ft. TR North 71 ft. TR East 46 ft. Community Medical Center 35 ft. The wave that took out Sendai, Japan was 33ft. high and reached 50 miles inland. HOWEVER: Japan is located near the subduction zone of 2 CONVERGENT tectonic plates...NJ is not! The Mid-Atlantic Ridge (some 2,000 miles to our east) is a DIVERGENT tectonic plate boundary located along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Plates that collide and plates that separate are two entirely different scenarios. I still say our #1 threat has been, and will be (drum-roll please)..........hurricanes.
want2say March 19, 2011 at 01:50 AM
Thank You BN! I really appreciate the info!!!
Alec Gates March 19, 2011 at 03:38 PM
It is unfortunate that this article was presented so controversially. In reality, there has never been a reported fatality from or related to an earthquake in the entire history of New Jersey. The last time there was appreciable property damage was 1884. A tsunami created by the collapse of the Canary Island volcano is a theory and a doomsday scenario. There are plenty of B movies with similar plots. As the article states, we have no evidence that it ever happened before. The Canary Island volcanoes have been in existence for 10's of millions of years. Although theoretically possible, the probability of such an event is nil. Earthquakes happen regularly in New Jersey and some day one will be destructive but there are far more immediate issues to confront. A. E. Gates
George March 19, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Awwww... don't be a party pooper! Controversy sells newspapers and builds website traffic! It got you interested, didn't it?
Keep it Real March 22, 2011 at 03:59 AM
BN, Do not know who is right here but I went to your debunked site and found this. "The author of this website is not a scientist. He studied sciences at school and geology at college. He worked for 4 years in hydro-geology. He lives and works on the island of La Palma and has minor interests in the promotion of tourism on La Palma." The author also describes "A standard trick (sorry, technique) in the consultancy industry" to describe the scientist he is debunking and then states that he knows because "I did it myself for over 10 years." Should I trust a "non-scientist" vs Dr. Alexander Gates serves as the chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark, and is co-author of the book, "Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes New Edition" Steven N. Ward Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Santa Cruz California, USA Simon Day Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre, Department of Geological Sciences, University College, London, UK Full Disclosure BN do you benefit by your opinion on this? My only interest is I live on the east coast of the US and really would like to know a PEER reviewed scientific analysis of the risk and probability. Hurricanes and Tsunamis are real and my life may depend on it so I would like the best analysis available. Thanks
BN March 22, 2011 at 11:25 AM
"Keep It Real": Last time I heard the term "peer review' it was used in relation to the East Anglia "global warming" e-mails...."hide the decline", remember? My only interest is that I live my life without academics using fear-mongering to generate funding for their so-called "research".
George March 22, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Thanks, "Keep It Real" -- but some people are deeply entrenched in their opinions, and no amount of fact-checking will change their minds. There can be no exchange of ideas if one side is in denial. Remember the old saying: "Mother Nature gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk." Someday we'll all meet in a traffic jam on a Coastal Evacuation Route! :-)
BN March 22, 2011 at 12:07 PM
I see this thread has already degraded in to the stereotypical "You don't believe science therefor you are illiterate, inbred, stupid, gun-toting, NASCAR-watching (fill in the blank with your choice of pretentious, condescending rhetoric) kind of diatribe. Question authority...even if it's from "academia". Politics and science is a bad mixture. Just because a person has a PhD after their name, doesn't mean their word is accurate or unbiased. "Scientists" once believed that trepanation, mercury therapy, and bloodletting were "good" for the human body. As recent as the 1940's, lobotomies were performed for just about any mental ailment. Here's a recent story about "researchers" who thought they had found 3.5 billion-year-old bacteria fossils in Australian rock but were dubunked after U.S geologists: They were actually lifeless minerals! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1367544/Whoops-Scientists-left-red-faced-oldest-evidence-life-turns-iron-deposits.html?ITO=1490 Stuff like this goes on all the time in "academia". To assume that these men and women are some how more honest and moral in their work than say, attorneys, bankers, stock brokers, etc., is absurd.
b March 25, 2011 at 03:02 AM
I love how so many of those posting try to match wits with an expert. So silly, I'm laughing.

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