Ancient tsunami engulfed Mediterranean coastline 2006-12-01 15:03:51

Maximum wave crests heights predicted by a computer simulation of the ancient event. Blue lines are arrival times of the first tsunami waves.(File Photo)
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    BEIJING, Dec. 1 (Xinhuanet) -- Imagine a volcano avalanche generated tsunami 10 stories high containing enough sediment and rock to cover the entire island of Manhattan with a layer of debris thicker than the height of Empire State Building.

    According to a computer simulation, that's what happened 8,000 years ago in Sicily when Mt. Etna erupted and produced an avalanche that hurled six cubic miles of dirt and rock into the water, creating a tsunami that spread across the entire Mediterranean Sea and onto the shore of three continents in only a few hours.

    The mountain of rubble swept into the sea at more than 200 mph, pulverized the sea bed and changed thick layers of soft marine sediment into jelly. It also started an underwater mudslide that flowed for hundreds of miles.

    Researchers at the National Institute of Geology and Volcanolgy in Italy have also linked the tsunami with the mysterious abandonment of Atlit-Yam, a Neolithic village located along the coast of present-day Israel.

    When archeologists discovered the village about 20 years ago, they found evidence of a sudden evacuation, including a pile of fish that had been gutted and sorted but then left to rot.

    "A tsunami was not suspected before," said lead researcher Maria Pareschi.

    To create their computer simulation, researchers used sonar-equipped boats to survey seafloor sediment displaced by the Mt. Etna avalanche.

    Their recreation suggests the tsunami's waves reached heights of up to 130 feet and maximum speeds of up to 450 mph, making it more powerful than the Indonesian tsunami that killed more than 180,000 people in 2004.

    According to Pareschi, if the same tsunami struck today, Southern Italy would be covered with water within the first 15 minutes. An hour later the waves would reach Greece's western coasts. After an hour and a half, the city of Benghazi in Northern Africa would be hit. At the three and a half hour mark, the waves would have traversed the entire Mediterranean to reach the coasts of Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

    "Should the Neolithic Etna tsunami have occurred today, the impact is tremendous because the Eastern Mediterranean coasts are very inhabited ones," Pereschi said.

    Avalanches and minor eruptions still occur on Mt. Etna today, but so far, nothing approaching the magnitude of the ancient event.


Editor: Gareth Dodd
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