With Japan’s recent experience with one of the costliest natural disasters in history, it seems only natural to wonder if something like that could happen here, on our own Gulf Coast. According to those currently studying the Gulf, it’s possible, but not likely.
Scientists at Texas A&M Galveston hosted a national conference, sponsored by the National Tsunami Mitigation Program, a workgroup within the NOAA Administration, to discuss the ongoing research into just such a possibility.
According to Harvey Rice’s article, “Galveston Has Little to Fear From Tsunami,” in the April 4th edition of the Houston Chronicle, it isn’t likely to happen. However, Uri ten Brink, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey noted that there have been tsunami events in the past due to large landslides along the continental margin of the Gulf of Mexico.
There aren’t any known fault lines nearby that could cause underwater earthquakes, but there have been four recorded earthquakes in the Gulf of Mexico since 1978. The latest was a 5.9 quake in 2006 off the coast of Louisiana. A quake usually has to be at least a 7 to generate a landslide and a resulting wave.
The tidal gauge at Galveston has recorded two surges that might have resulted from undersea landslides, according to Brink. There was a 2-foot rise in 1922, and a 1.5 foot rise in 1918. (There is no mention in the article about damages done, if any.)
The tsunami scientists are actively searching for any potential landslide hazards along the coast. It would seem to be very helpful to know where the hazards are, and in what direction any waves might be generated if one of them were to “go.” Interestingly enough, Mexican authorities will not allow the scientists to investigate the Campeche undersea escarpment, (which, from what I can tell on the maps I’ve found, appears to lie north of Merida and Cancun), therefore the potential for undersea landslides at that location is not known.
One has to wonder why scientists are not allowed to investigate that part of the ocean. True, it is within Mexican territorial waters, but wouldn’t they be just as concerned as we are about the possibility of an underwater landslide off their coast? Perhaps they are drilling offshore in that area and do not want scientists out there for some reason. If anyone knows the answer to this mystery, please advise.