Holocene gigascale rock avalanches in Vaigat strait, West Greenland—Implications for geohazard

Kristian Svennevig, Matthew J. Owen, Michele Citterio, Tove Nielsen, Salik Rosing, Jan Harff, Rudolf Endler, Mathieu Morlighem, Eric Rignot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Rock avalanche-triggered displacement waves (also termed tsunamis) have recently occurred in Greenland and Alaska, and they illustrate the presence of such hazards in polar regions. To improve understanding of the magnitude of this hazard for these areas, we investigated gigascale subaerial rock avalanches impacting a partially confined water body within the Vaigat strait (western Greenland). We present a new combined subaerial to subaqueous digital elevation model, alongside a new compilation of seismic data, which revealed nine deglacial to Holocene rock avalanche complexes that are between one and two orders of magnitude larger than nearby historical rock avalanches. The three largest complexes have deposit thicknesses up to 300 m, runout distances reaching 19 km, and best-estimate volumes from 1.7 to 8.4 km3. Based on the morphology and the volume-angle of reach relations, it is likely that each complex represents a single or few events, thus making them among the largest displacement wave-generating subaerial to submarine rock avalanches on Earth. We estimated displacement wave magnitude up to 280 m on the opposite shore. The ages of the deposits are poorly constrained but the main rock avalanche activity is referable to early Holocene times. With significant climatic changes predicted in the Arctic, we recommend that hazard assessments account for events not only from the historical record but also those from the recent geological past.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-152
Number of pages6
JournalGeology
Volume52
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 4: Mineral Resources
  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources
  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate
  • Programme Area 3: Energy Resources

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