What Are Underwater Landslides, and How Dangerous Are They?
Landslides on land are natural and relatively well-known phenomena that pose significant risks to surrounding areas and structures. We generally understand them, and they often occur in mountainous areas, especially after heavy rains. Landslides can also occur after significant seismic activity, like earthquakes.
Recently, scientists have found evidence to support the widespread existence of underwater landslides, also known as submarine landslides. While these disruptions don't pose as many immediate risks to human life as their terrestrial counterparts, underwater landslides can still be quite dangerous.
Geologically speaking, the world is never still. In addition to constantly revolving around the sun, which itself is traveling through the Milky Way, Earth has a surface that is in constant motion. That's because the upper layer of the Earth's crust is composed of several large pieces, known as tectonic plates.
Triggering Underwater Landslides
Coastal cities and offshore oil rigs have the most risk of suffering damage as a result of shifting underwater tectonic plates. Underwater landslides play a huge part, as submarine earthquakes and volcanic eruptions alone don't tend to cause tsunamis or massive destruction.
Dangerous Offshore Conditions
Offshore rigs are often located more than 100 miles from any shoreline, making emergency situations exceptionally hazardous. While rigs often have medical personnel on board to help and may even have a helicopter for expedited hospital transfers, natural disasters pose a more challenging type of threat.
A Threat to Coastlines
Because the world is full of water and covered in shifting faults, submarine landslides are a fairly common occurrence. So, why don’t you hear about them on the news all the time? They can be particularly difficult to detect or track because the ocean is immensely vast, and most landslides only displace a small amount of sediment and don’t cause major catastrophes. Still, a massive underwater landslide that occurs fairly close to land could result in a surprising — but fortunately short-lived — change in tides.
An Ever-Changing Earth
There are some things about our planet that we can change or manipulate — for the better and for the worse — but tectonic plates are far beyond our control. As long as these plates continue to shift, change and collide, different types of natural disasters will occur as a result. However, by educating ourselves on why underwater landslides occur, which areas they are likely to affect and possible early detection techniques, we can try to offset the financial and biological toll of catastrophic events. Fortunately, a lot of excellent research is underway to study the short-term and long-term effects of underwater landslides.