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Preliminary assessment of the wave generating potential from landslides at Barry Arm, Prince William Sound, Alaska

July 8, 2021

We simulated the concurrent rapid motion of landslides on an unstable slope at Barry Arm, Alaska. Movement of landslides into the adjacent fjord displaced fjord water and generated a tsunami, which propagated out of Barry Arm. Rather than assuming an initial sea surface height, velocity, and location for the tsunami, we generated the tsunami directly using a model capable of simulating the dynamics of both water and landslide material. The fjord below most of the landslide source area was occupied by the Barry Glacier until about 2012; therefore, our direct simulation of tsunami generation by landslide motion required new topographic and bathymetric data, which was collected in 2020. The topographic data also constrained landslide geometries and volumes. We considered four scenarios based on two landslide volumes and two landslide mobilities—a more mobile, contractive landslide and a less mobile, noncontractive landslide. The larger of the two volumes is 689 × 106 cubic meters (m3)—larger than the volume estimate in a previous study—and reflects the largest plausible volume given current observational data. The considered scenario that generated the largest wave heights resulted in forecast wave heights of over 200 meters (m) in the northern part of Barry Arm, adjacent to the landslide source area and runup on the opposite fjord wall in excess of 500 m. Simulated wave heights in excess of 5 m in southern Barry Arm and in Harriman Fjord occurred within 10–15 minutes (min) of landslide motion. The simulated tsunami reached Whittier, Alaska, approximately 20 min after initial rapid landslide motion, with peak heights of just over 2 m in Passage Fjord, 500 m offshore Whittier, occurring 26 min after initial rapid motion. Time of peak wave heights was consistent with previous modeling. Although results are preliminary and can be refined with additional observations and analyses, they provide a refined assessment of the upper bound of the hazard presented by the Barry Arm landslides. The results herein support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Tsunami Warning Center mission to detect, forecast, and warn for tsunamis in Alaska.

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