Ancient 'Mega-Tsunami' Created an 800-Foot Wave that Could Happen Again Today

First Posted: Oct 05, 2015 07:22 AM EDT

Scientists may have uncovered the signs of an ancient, mega-tsunami that could foretell a modern hazard. Researchers have found evidence of the sudden collapse of a volcano that generated an ocean tsunami that dwarfed anything seen by humans.

The collapse of the volcano occurred about 73,000 years ago at the Fogo volcano. This particular volcano, at the time, was one of the world's largest and most active volcanoes. Today, it towers about 9,300 feet above sea level, and erupts about every 20 years. The ancient wave from the volcano apparently hit Santiago Island, which is now home to about 250,000 people.

There is no argument that volcanic flans present a hazard. In fact, at least eight similar collapses have occurred in Alaska, Japan and elsewhere in the last several hundred years, and some of these have generated deadly tsunamis.

In this latest study, the researchers found that the 40 cubic miles of rock that Fogo lost during the collapse was dropped all at once, resulting in the 800-foot wave. By comparison, the biggest known recent tsunami reached only about 100 feet. This particular wave devastated the Indian Ocean's coasts in 2004 and eastern Japan in 2011.

Santiago Island lies just 34 miles from Fogo. If a mega-tsunami formed today, it would be devastating for the island.

"...The scale of such events, as the Fogo study testifies, and their potentially devastating impact, makes them a clear and serious hazard in ocean basins that host active volcanoes," said Bill McGuire, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

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