We analyze mass-flow tsunami generation for selected areas within the Aleutian arc of Alaska using results from numerical simulation of hypothetical but plausible mass-flow sources such as submarine landslides and volcanic debris avalanches. The Aleutian arc consists of a chain of volcanic mountains, volcanic islands, and submarine canyons, surrounded by a low-relief continental shelf above about 1000–2000 m water depth. Parts of the arc are fragmented into a series of fault-bounded blocks, tens to hundreds of kilometers in length, and separated from one another by distinctive fault-controlled canyons that are roughly normal to the arc axis. The canyons are natural regions for the accumulation and conveyance of sediment derived from glacial and volcanic processes. The volcanic islands in the region include a number of historically active volcanoes and some possess geological evidence for large-scale sector collapse into the sea. Large scale mass-flow deposits have not been mapped on the seafloor south of the Aleutian Islands, in part because most of the area has never been examined at the resolution required to identify such features, and in part because of the complex nature of erosional and depositional processes. Extensive submarine landslide deposits and debris flows are known on the north side of the arc and are common in similar settings elsewhere and thus they likely exist on the trench slope south of the Aleutian Islands. Because the Aleutian arc is surrounded by deep, open ocean, mass flows of unconsolidated debris that originate either as submarine landslides or as volcanic debris avalanches entering the sea may be potential tsunami sources. To test this hypothesis we present a series of numerical simulations of submarine mass-flow initiated tsunamis from eight different source areas. We consider four submarine mass flows originating in submarine canyons and four flows that evolve from submarine landslides on the trench slope. The flows have lengths that range from 40 to 80 km, maximum thicknesses of 400–800 m, and maximum widths of 10–40 km. We also evaluate tsunami generation by volcanic debris avalanches associated with flank collapse, at four locations (Makushin, Cleveland, Seguam and Yunaska SW volcanoes), which represent large to moderate sized events in this region. We calculate tsunami sources using the numerical model TOPICS and simulate wave propagation across the Pacific using a spherical Boussinesq model, which is a modified version of the public domain code FUNWAVE. Our numerical simulations indicate that geologically plausible mass flows originating in the North Pacific near the Aleutian Islands can indeed generate large local tsunamis as well as large transoceanic tsunamis. These waves may be several meters in elevation at distal locations, such as Japan, Hawaii, and along the North and South American coastlines where they would constitute significant hazards.
Additional publication details
Pacific Basin tsunami hazards associated with mass flows in the Aleutian arc of Alaska