Murkowski pushes improving PWS warning system

Scientists believe that Barry Arm, a fjord in northern Prince William Sound, could be on the brink of a major landslide. Photo courtesy of Christian Zimmerman

In the wake of warnings of a potential massive landslide due to a melting glacier and thawing permafrost, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is urging federal oceans officials to prioritize improvements to tsunami monitoring in Prince William Sound.

Murkowski’s letter to Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Neil Jacobs and Assistant Administrator for Weather Services Louis Uccelini asked for NOAA to provide a long-term plan for monitoring non-seismic landslide-induced tsunamis in Prince William Sound and in other areas where such hazards may occur, such as Southeast Alaska.

Murkowski also asked for a timeline for when tsunami inundation maps for Prince William Sound communities will be updated, given the discovery of this new hazard.

The senator’s letter was prompted by a warning issued in mid-May by 14 scientists affiliated with the Woods Hole Research Center, in Falmouth, Massachusetts, who identified an unstable mountain slope in Barry Arm, a fjord 60 miles east of Anchorage, that has the potential to fail and generate a tsunami.

This landslide generated tsunami, which could happen with the next year and likely within 20 years, could impact areas frequented by tourists, fishing vessels and hunters, the scientists said. The scientists said they are working with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological and Geophysical Survey and have contacted the U.S. Geological Survey, requesting help to begin monitoring as soon as possible.

“The landslide and tsunami threat in Barry Arm could impact hundreds of lives, from local residents to those who fish and recreate in Prince William Sound,” said Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I urge NOAA to devote ample resources to improve observation capabilities in the area and to ensure that the U.S. Tsunami Warning System can rapidly notify potentially at-risk communities like Whittier.”