Reevaluation of Tsunami Formation by Debris Avalanche at Augustine Volcano, Alaska
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Debris avalanches entering the sea at Augustine Volcano, Alaska have been proposed as a mechanism for generating tsunamis. Historical accounts of the 1883 eruption of the volcano describe 6- to 9-meter-high waves that struck the coastline at English Bay (Nanwalek), Alaska about 80 kilometers east of Augustine Island. These accounts are often cited as proof that volcanigenic tsunamis from Augustine Volcano are significant hazards to the coastal zone of lower Cook Inlet. This claim is disputed because deposits of unequivocal tsunami origin are not evident at more than 50 sites along the lower Cook Inlet coastline where they might be preserved. Shallow water (< 25 m) around Augustine Island, in the run-out zone for debris avalanches, limits the size of an avalanche-caused wave. If the two most recent debris avalanches, Burr Point (A.D. 1883) and West Island (< 500 yr. B.P.) were traveling at velocities in the range of 50 to 100 meters per second, the kinetic energy of the avalanches at the point of impact with the ocean would have been between 1014 and 1015 joules. Although some of this energy would be dissipated through boundary interactions and momentum transfer between the avalanche and the sea, the initial wave should have possessed sufficient kinetic energy to do geomorphic work (erosion, sediment transport, formation of wave-cut features) on the coastline of lower Cook Inlet. Because widespread evidence of the effects of large waves cannot be found, it appears that the debris avalanches could not have been traveling very fast when they entered the sea, or they happened during low tide and displaced only small volumes of water. In light of these results, the hazard from volcanigenic tsunamis from Augustine Volcano appears minor, unless a very large debris avalanche occurs at high tide.
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