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Seismic stations installed in Barry Arm to monitor landslide

Published: Sep. 27, 2020 at 9:12 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Scientists have placed devices to monitor a landslide in Prince William Sound’s Barry Arm that has the potential to create a destructive tsunami that could hit Whittier -- less than 30 miles away, as well as nearby areas.

Earlier this month, a camera and two seismic stations were installed in the arm. The stations record vibrations in the earth including earthquakes, parts of the Barry Glacier calving or the landslide moving.

Scientists announced the discovery of the landslide earlier this year. They don’t know when, or if, it will come down, but if it does, it could be disastrous.

“It’s clear that we need to begin to acquire data from the site itself,” said Michael West, the director of the Alaska Earthquake Center. “We want to know when that mass, when that slide begins to move how much it moves, when it moves, and questions like that. Until we are measuring things on site, everything is just kind of wild speculation.”

Geologists have been studying the landslide since its discovery with new and old data. The fjord wall has moved several hundred feet over a number of years, West said. However, the new seismic stations will allow data to be collected more often.

West said the new devices are a baby step.

“Having real time data streaming from the Barry arm region, is the first step in understanding how to go about building an appropriate and effective monitoring system down the road,” West said.

Geologist’s don’t yet know what the signs ahead of time would be if the landslide were to actively crash down, West said. So, right now, the seismic stations are for data collection and research, not yet for warning people of an impending wave.

“It’s probably going to take years of observation and research before people are at a place where there might be some confidence around those kinds of decisions,” West said.

According to West, multiple agencies are working together to try to understand what is happening with the Barry Arm Landslide.

The hope is more types of monitoring devices will be installed as other ways to watch the slide, West said.

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