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Big Wave Coming

One day, a giant wave, 425 feet high, traveling 125 mph, could crash into Sydney, Australia, wipe out the beaches of California or drench the golf courses of northeast Scotland. Mega-tsunamis have happened in the past, and no coastline in the world is safe, says Edward Bryant of Wollongong University in Australia.

He has found signs that giant waves swept over Australia, California and the Scottish coastline in the past and believes it could happen again. ?I believe St. Andrews golf course [in Scotland] is a tsunami deposit,? says Bryant.

Over the past 2,000 years, tsunamis have killed 462,597 people in the Pacific, with the largest toll in the Japanese islands. The 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Spain triggered a 50 foot wave that caused widespread destruction in southwest Spain, western Morocco and across the Atlantic in the Caribbean.

Science blames these killer waves on earthquakes and most countries think they are in no danger from them. But in his book, ?Tsunamis -- The Underrated Hazard,? Bryant argues that underwater landslides and volcanoes and even a meteorite impact must also be taken into considertion when evaluating the risk of tsunamis.

In 1989, Bryant was researching rocks and sand barriers along the coastline of eastern Australia when he noticed giant boulders, some weighing almost 100 tons, that were jammed into a crevice at the top of a rock platform over 100 feet above sea level that was sheltered from the waves. After further investigation, he found other massive boulders miles inland. Bryant then examined bedrock that had been eroded and found gaps roughly gouged in the rock in places where normal waves couldn?t reach. ?But a tsunami could do this,? Bryant says. ?? I had descended into the abyss of catastrophism.?

Bryant feels it?s ?na?ve? to base what we know about tsunamis simply on documented history, because in North America and Australia, official history only goes back as far as white colonization. We ignore the legends of the Indians of North America, the Aborigines of Australia or the Maoris of New Zealand. ?We ignore all oral record and it?s probably a significant oversight,? Bryant says.

One Aboriginal legend tells how one of the four pillars holding up the sky collapsed in the east and the sea also fell in. The Maoris of New Zealand have long spoken of a time of fire that burned the land to a crisp. A legend told by the Kwenaitchechat people of the U.S. Pacific Northwest tells of a great shaking of the earth that led to the sea receding and then coming back in a great wall.

Using dating techniques, Bryant found evidence that eastern Australia was struck by a mega-tsunami around 1500, which would coincide with the Aboriginal legend of a ?great white wave.? The Aboriginal accounts of fire in the sky mean a comet crashing into the South Tasman Sea could have been responsible. Carbon dating indicates that fire ravaged New Zealand at the same time, giving further weight to the theory of a comet impact. Japanese researchers researching past tsunamis have found evidence of a massive earthquake off Oregon in January 1700 that would coincide with the Indian legends there.

Bryant?s theories about meteor and comet impacts occurring a relatively short time ago contradict the many scientists who believe the chances of Earth colliding with space debris are tiny. But Bryant says computer modeling suggests a meteor would not have to be a ?dinosaur killer? to cause a mega-tsunami. A chunk of meteor less than 350 feet in diameter moving at 65 feet per second could theoretically produce a tsunami that is 300 feet high.

Bryant says that underwater landslides also have the power alone to generate giant waves. A 1998 earthquake off northwest Papua New Guinea has been blamed for a tsunami that killed around 2,000 people. But according to conventional science, the 7.1 magnitude was too small to be responsible for the 50 foot wave that at some points swept 1,500 feet inland. Bryant believes the destruction was caused by an underwater landslide.

Another landslide-induced tsunami may have been responsible for shaping the Scottish coastline 7,000 years ago. Scientists have found indications of a large underwater landslide off the east coast of Norway that could have sent a wave originally measuring 30 feet roaring across the Atlantic.

Geologists at the University of Sydney have recently mapped around 170 underwater landslide zones off Sydney, which has four million inhabitants. Bryant has found evidence that tsunamis have regularly struck the Australian coast every 500 years.

Chile, Japan and Hawaii already have warning systems and evacuation drills to deal with the giant waves. Seabed sensors can send tsunami warnings via satellite, triggering alarms within minutes. Bryant says, ?The only guarantee or prediction is that they will happen again, sometime soon, on a coastline near you.?

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