The tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11, 2011, was the largest ever to strike a modern, developed coastline. But probably won't be the last.
The next great Pacific tsunami may well hail from Alaska. And if it's anything like the great swells of seawater that region has kicked up in the past, it could cause death and destruction as far away as Hawaii and California.
Recent analysis of Alaska's potential to generate a future tsunami, highlighted in the May 8 issue of Eos, have turned up a worrisome similarity between the source of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that generated the Japan tsunami and a particular segment of a major quake-prone fault running along the seafloor just south of Alaska's Aleutian islands.
That fault, known as the Alaskan-Aleutian subduction zone, marks where the edge of the earth's tectonic plate carrying the Pacific Ocean plunges beneath another plate to the north. Sudden slip between those plates produced the Good Friday Earthquake (also called the Great Alaska Earthquake) of March 27, 1964, which was the most powerful earthquake in U.S. history. That magnitude 9.2 temblor resulted in 145 deaths, many of them hundreds of miles away-and 90 percent of them due to the resulting tsunamis.