Scientists have warned that Alaska and other cold, mountainous places worldwide could experience tsunamis due to the melting of permafrost. As the permafrost melts, it can no longer hold the mountains together, leading to risk of collapse. Scientists warn that if the collapsing mountains slide into the sea, they could lead to devastating tsunamis.

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In Alaska, the Barry Arm fjord has been observed as a possible hotspot for tsunamis. Although the creeping on the fjord was only discovered this year, evidence shows that it started collapsing in the previous century. If this mountain collapses into the ocean, a resulting tsunami could hit any ships in the vicinity. Given that Barry Arm is a popular cruise ship destination, such an occurrence could be disastrous. The tsunami would also impact the nearby town of Whittier.

Related: Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past 3 decades

According to a recent report produced by a team of geologists, there is a likelihood of a slide happening within the next 20 years and a possibility of one happening within a year.

The effects of landslides can be quite devastating, especially if they happen abruptly. In 2015, a landslide in Alaska resulted in a tsunami that cleared forests 193 meters up the slopes of Taan Fiord, according to The Guardian.

Geologist Brentwood Higman explained that climate change can affect the landscape. Higman noted that the abrupt retreat of glaciers could bring the surrounding slopes down quickly, too, rather than in a gradual movement. If these slopes collapse into the water, the chance of a tsunami increases.

Scientists have found a link between mountain collapses and tsunamis and the warmest years recorded in Alaska. Geologist Erin Bessette-Kirton has found a correlation between landslides in the Saint Elias Mountains and Glacier Bay and years with higher-than-average temperatures. “We don’t have a good handle on the mechanism,” Bessette-Kirton said. “We have correlations, but we don’t know the driving force. What conditions the landslide, and what triggers it?”

To make matters worse, global warming has led more areas of ice to become water. Now, more slopes are situated above water rather than ice, meaning a landslide in these areas has a better chance of leading to a tsunami.

Via The Guardian

Image via Frank Kovalchek