This story originally appeared in the High Country News and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration

The Begich Towers tower above glacier-covered mountains above Whittier, Alaska.More than 80 percent of the town’s residents live in the Cold War-era barracks in this former secret military port, whose port is full of traffic every summer: encrusted with barnacles Fishing Boats, Sightseeing Ships, Sail Boats, Superyachts, and Cruise Monstrosities This summer, coronavirus travel restrictions have dampened tourism in the normally bustling port Then came warnings of a potentially devastating tsunami

Whittier residents have been concerned about tsunamis for generations.In 1964, the Good Friday quake was followed by a 25-foot wave that destroyed waterfront infrastructure, lifted, twisted, and dragged railroad lines back into the sea Whittier is still preoccupied with people killed and $ 10 million in damage

With tons of rocks and rubble precariously high over a nearby fjord ready to plunge into the sea, the city’s present is shaped by both its past and preparations for an uncertain future that destabilization is being driven by climate change: Tsunamis are becoming more likely in Alaska as slopes that were formerly reinforced by glaciers and frozen ground loosen their hold on once stable slopes

On 14 May, a press release from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and a public letter from 14 scientists warned locals of a possible tsunami caused by landslides Alaska has identified three similar events in the past: tsunamis in 2015 and 1967 occurred in remote areas Areas where one killed two people whose boat overturned in 1958, but the unstable slope in Barry Arm, a narrow, steep-walled fjord in Prince William Sound, is far more dangerous with the potential energy of catastrophic slide here about ten times higher than at previous events, the state’s top geologist said in the May press release

The landslide in Barry Arm has been lurching towards the sea since at least 1957, when Barry Glacier, which once grasped the base of the mountain and held back the slope, pulled its load-bearing ice wall out from under the rock for the first time as the glacier retreated, The slope’s support system also retreated – it pulled the rock face down toward the sea, leaving a distinct, zigzag indentation on the slope.From 2009 to 2015, Barry Glacier retreated past the bottom of the landslide and the slope fell 600 feet Barry Glacier has declined more than two miles since 2006 Scientists believe the incline is likely to fail within the next 20 years – and could even fail within the year

Climate change makes land more unstable and increases the risk of landslide-induced tsunamis. As the climate warms, glaciers are melting and retreating from the mountain slopes that hugged the Barry Glacier ice wall that once formed the slope in place and Place held and propped it up against the mountains of the fjord, has thinned, moved away from the cliff, loosened its support and exposed an unstable slope that slides down towards the sea, with Brentwood Higman, geologist and chief executive officer of Ground Truth Alaska, is collaborating other scientists gathered to study the effects of climate change on landslide-triggered tsunamis “[These events] are worth being concerned about regardless of climate change,” said Higman. “But there are a number of reasons to believe that climate change makes them much more likely ”

As the glaciers recede, the land above them also becomes more unstable. The rugged Alpine region in southern Alaska is already thawing dramatically. Once frozen, sheets of rock, dirt and ice release trapped liquids and are more prone to slide down mountains

Another less obvious symptom of climate change increases risk.When there is more water in the atmosphere, precipitation becomes more intense rain, even more so than earthquakes, is prone to landslides, Higman said.Climate change will make landslides more likely and more frequent, said Anna Liljedahl, an Associate Scientist at Woods Hole Research Center “It is an emerging hazard and so there is an urgent need to assess where we have these unstable slopes and where they pose a threat to humans,” Liljedahl said >

Tracking unstable slopes can give time for local governments to put in place warning systems As a result, scientists are working to identify unstable land, with a focus on monitoring landslides near communities in southeast and southern Alaska

In mid-October, Gabriel Wolken, Program Manager for Climate and Cryospheric Hazards at the Department of Geological and Geophysical Surveys in Alaska, brought a helicopter to Barry Arm.He carried out a lidar survey with a laser scanner to detail the topography of the slide area Measure and calculate how the landslide has moved and changed since June The data is still being processed. However, with every visit there are new rockfalls in the area, indicating the instability of the area “The rock itself is not very competent”, Clouds said “It’s basically falling apart”

Whittier residents are well aware of the risk, said Peter Denmark, who runs a commercial kayak business in the city. “The people of the city have a laissez-faire attitude,” said Denmark Alaskans have “thick skins” when When it comes to disasters, he said, “If it’s not tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes or forest fires, it’s one thing or the other. Yet Denmark is taking precautions He avoids the Barry Arm area on kayak tours

Kelly Bender and husband Mike rely on Prince William Sound summer tourism from their waterfront office, chartering water taxis, fishing boats, kayaking and sightseeing tours.Before news of a possible landslide broke, Bender said her fleet was up Penetrated daily into Barry Arm due to its scenic location near glaciers and a popular beach, the state estimates that there could be 500 people in the area at any time during high season.Bender has changed itineraries, canceled water taxi rides, and even canceled a scheduled wedding “The dangerous part of it – people feel like we know what to do in a tsunami,” said Bender. “It’s the business part of really hanging out by the same thread when Whittier sounds tsunami warning sirens, knowing residents that they must quickly move away from the coast and go to a higher level The state encourages the coastal residents to keep a “travel bag” filled with emergency supplies and to plan evacuation routes

While it is still possible to avert or mitigate many of the worst effects of climate change, there really is no way to eradicate tsunamis caused by landslides, but the state uses howitzer cannons to trigger controlled avalanches in railroad and highway corridors, however there’s no easy way to gently lure a colossal landmass into the ocean from the side of a mountain. “It’s pretty much science fiction,” Higman said. Smaller landslides can potentially be stabilized from the bottom up, but large landslides like in Barry Arm “Forget it,” said Liljedahl

Better readiness, installing a robust surveillance system on and near landslides, and creating an effective localized warning system are the best ways to keep communities safe, but some locals, like Denmark, the kayak outfitter, prefer one Faster Approach “My idea was just to blow it up and crouch,” he said, “But nobody thought that was a good idea”

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