Geologist sounds alarm at volcanic tidal wave threat
By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent
A collapsing volcano could trigger a vast tidal wave capable of wiping New York, Washington and Miami off the map as well as bringing devastation to southern England, governments were warned yesterday.
Geologists are concerned that an unstable flank of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma in the Canaries is in danger of sliding into the sea.
If shaken loose by a volcanic eruption, the slab of rock - which is the size of the Isle of Man - would send a tsunami more than 500ft high racing across the Atlantic at the speed of a jumbo jet.
Within three hours, the wave would swamp the east coast of Africa, within five hours it would reach southern England and within 12 it would hit America's east coast.
New York, Washington, Boston and Miami would be hit by successive waves abound 60ft high. Tens of millions of people could die.
Although the volcano could erupt any day - it has been dormant since 1971 but tends to erupt every 20 to 200 years - funding to British scientists investigating the threat has been stopped.
Prof Bill McGuire, of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College London, said close monitoring might give two weeks warning of the disaster.
But Spanish funding for a monitoring project dried up several years ago.
The two or three seismographs left to pick up signs of movement in the rock were not capable of detecting an approaching eruption weeks in advance. "What we need now is an integrated volcanic monitoring set up to give maximum warning of a coming eruption," said Prof McGuire.
Cumbre Vieja is the most active volcano on the Canaries. Before their funding ended, the British team calculated that it was sliding towards the sea at a rate of one centimetre per year, but that a big eruption could send the entire flank crashing down.
The wave from the landslide would spread out in a crescent, striking the west African coast with a wall of water more than 300ft high in two to three hours.
Its northern side would also brush against Europe. Within three to four hours, a 33ft high wave would smash into the south coast of England, causing immense damage.
After travelling 4,000 miles the wave would be lower and wider by the time it reached America, but still be between 66ft and 164ft high.