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British Columbia landslide triggered 100-meter-high tsunami, triggering earthquake: Study | national news

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VANCOUVER – A retreating ice mass in a remote valley in British Columbia has caused a massive landslide that reached 100 meters in height, wiping kilometers from salmon habitat and detected as far away as Australia, a study says.

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, said the landslide on November 28, 2020, dumped 18 million cubic meters of rock into the side of a mountain, uprooting trees and displacing soil before it hit Elliott Creek.

The study said seismic sensors at stations around the world, including Germany, Japan and Australia, detected the landslide.

She added that the slide destroyed the salmon-breeding habitat 8.5 km from the creek and sent a plume of mud and organic matter more than 60 km into Butte Bay, about 150 km from Vancouver.

At the same time as the slip, a professor at Columbia University in New York measured a 5-magnitude earthquake in that area.

Martin Gerchima, lead author of the paper and associate professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, said that although the landslide wasn’t the largest in Canada, it was “quite massive.”

“Imagine a landslide with a mass equal to all the cars in Canada traveling at about 140 kilometers per hour when they hit a large lake,” he said in an interview.

When the massive slide plunged into a lake below, Gerchima said, most of the water was drained and pushed down a 10-kilometre canal, causing widespread erosion and the loss of salmon habitat. He said he removed about four million cubic meters of material from the creek within 10 minutes, something that would have taken thousands of years if the current continued to flow normally.

Several factors combined to cause slope instability and landslide, said Professor Brian Menounos, chair of Canada Research in Glacial Change at the University of Northern British Columbia.

“What we don’t know is whether the straw that broke the camel’s back, for lack of a better ferry, was a rainstorm or unusually wet conditions during 2020,” he said.

What scientists do know, he said, is that the glaciers that once covered the slopes and tied them together are melting very quickly due to human-induced climate change, leaving the sides of the mountains loose and exposed.

Gerchima said the biggest impact of the landslide was on the hunting habitat.

Homalco First Nation contributed to the research and co-authored the study released last month, he said, bringing their knowledge of salmon habitat in Elliot Creek.

Menounos said landslides are not uncommon and have sculpted the landscapes of the continents for thousands of years including the creation or transformation of bodies of water and rivers.

However, the avalanche is expected to accelerate landslides, and in some cases, scientists have the tools and data to better map the topography under the glaciers, allowing them to estimate such events, including new lake formations, he said.

“Being able to dry out half the volume of the lake maybe in 10 minutes or less, I mean, was very powerful and devastating. It feels very little, studying things with that power,” Menounos said.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on March 30, 2022.

Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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