Tsunami alert!

Antarctica can always throw up some surprises, but none more so than on Saturday morning when we received an alert from BAS staff based in the Falkland Islands. A magnitude 6.2 earthquake had been recorded, with its epicentre right in middle of the Drake’s Passage, about halfway between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula. No other information was available at that time and, of particular interest to us here at sea-level, it was not yet known whether or not there was any risk of a tsunami.


A picture of a wave, for anyone who isn't sure what one looks like. Just to be clear, this photo isn't related to the tsunami threat at all. It wasn't even taken on the same day.

Realistically, the threat was pretty minimal – Rothera Point is fairly well sheltered and we could expect warnings from other Antarctic bases further up the peninsula if there really was a big wave heading our way. However, we decided it would be prudent to move the various vehicles that were parked on the wharf, and put aside some basic comms equipment to take with us if a rapid dash for the hills was required. With our preparations completed, I took a radio, my camera and an emergency bar of chocolate outside and made the most of the sunny day to take some penguin photos, though always with one beady eye on the sea to the North just in case a wall of water came sweeping in.

As we were eating lunch later that day, the telephone rang again and we were told to stand down – no tsunami had been detected. The theory was that the displacement in the earth’s crust due to the earthquake was horizontal, rather than vertical, so there was no major disturbance to the seabed. With the risk now gone, I contemplated my emergency bar of chocolate and decided that the right thing to do would be to celebrate our lucky escape by eating it.

Click here for the USGS report on the earthquake.

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