Friday, July 29, 2005

Australia may face disaster due to newly discovered underwater and active volcanoes

Australia's east coast could be swamped by tsunamis triggered by a newly discovered string of active underwater volcanos north of New Zealand.

Australian National University geologist Richard Arculus warned yesterday that the 75 submerged volcanoes posed a major threat to Pacific nations.

"If any one of these underwater volcanoes either explosively erupts or collapses in a sudden movement, it would have a massive impact on the ocean, triggering a tsunami which could devastate communities across the region," Professor Arculus said.

Scientists from ANU, New Zealand, the US and Germany spent the past six years mapping the previously unknown 2000-kilometre string of volcanoes running north from New Zealand up to Tonga.

University of Wollongong associate dean of science Ted Bryant said the east coast of Australia had probably been swept by volcanic tsunamis in the past. But the geological evidence had been masked by a much bigger, 40-metre-high wave caused by a kilometre-wide comet hitting the ocean about 500 years ago.

"It's worth being on guard," Professor Bryant said.

Topographical images taken by Professor Arculus showed some of the volcanoes had collapsed in the past. But if a collapse were not foreshadowed by a major eruption, we would get little or no warning, he said.

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