Introduction: In a recent study, scientists have unearthed the cause behind giant underwater landslides in Antarctica. Their findings point towards the role of climate change, bringing about new concerns for future seismic events and potential tsunamis.
A team of international researchers discovered weak layers of biologically-rich sediments beneath the Antarctic sea floor, making the region susceptible to seismic activities. The layers were formed during periods of climate change with warmer temperatures and higher sea levels. With current climate change patterns mirroring these conditions, there’s potential for similar underwater landslides and tsunami risks.
A Deep Dive into Antarctica’s Underwater Mysteries
In 2017, the eastern Ross Sea in Antarctica revealed an enigmatic feature during the Italian ODYSSEA expedition – giant underwater landslides. The scientists returned a year later as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 374, this time armed with tools to collect sediment cores extending hundreds of meters beneath the sea floor.
Fossilized Clues from the Past
The extracted cores revealed weak layers of fossilized sediments, packed with microscopic fossils which painted a vivid picture of the region’s climate millions of years ago. These weak layers, created from ancient biological material, were attributed to the occurrence of the landslides.
Climate Change: The Underlying Instigator
Notably, these weak layers were formed during a period when Antarctica’s temperatures were up to 3°C warmer than today. The sea levels were higher, and ice sheets were significantly smaller. These conditions resemble current trends of global warming, indicating a potential threat for similar underwater landslides and consequent tsunamis.
A Wake-Up Call for Future Tsunami Risks
The study’s findings highlight an urgent need to comprehend how global climate change might influence the stability of such regions. It points out the risk of tsunamis reaching the shores of South America, New Zealand, and South East Asia if seismic events were to happen off the Antarctic coast.
The new findings open a rich field of research concerning submarine geohazards in other continental margins. A deeper understanding of the correlation between climate change and these landslide events will help in the evaluation of potential risks in similar geographies. Further research is also critical to determine the feasibility of infrastructure projects such as installing submarine cables in Antarctic waters.