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The Earth-Shaping Power of Underwater Avalanches: A Mysterious Phenomenon

In November 1929, a tremendous earthquake occurred in the Grand Banks, just off the southern coast of Newfoundland in Canada. The seismic activity was so powerful that its tremors reached as far as New York City. As a result, a vast amount of sand and mud was stirred up and began flowing down a canyon, gradually gaining momentum. This led to the formation of a remarkable underwater avalanche, comprising enough material to construct two Mount Everests. Tragically, the avalanche triggered a deadly tsunami, claiming the lives of more than 25 people.

Although this incident remains the most significant recorded underwater avalanche, it is not an isolated event. Under the sea, the largest avalanches on Earth regularly occur along the coasts and within the oceans, carving out the deepest and longest canyons our planet has to offer. Most of the time, these avalanches go unnoticed.

For centuries, the only witnesses to these occurrences were the fish and deep-sea creatures that could have been carried away or nourished by the nutrient-rich sediments transported by the currents. More recently, ruptured gas pipelines and broken communication cables have provided tangible evidence that something extraordinary is taking place beneath the waves. However, in the past few years, our understanding of underwater avalanches has significantly improved.

Through a combination of fortunate circumstances and a series of experiments, scientists have managed to capture these awe-inspiring events in action. It turns out that the intricate systems of underwater canyons, many of which were previously considered geologically inactive, are actually quite the opposite. Armed with new data, researchers have begun to piece together a more comprehensive understanding of submarine avalanches, their impact on the Earth’s structure, and their essential role in carbon sequestration, which is crucial in combating global warming.

Discovering the captivating world of underwater avalanches

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