There is no evidence at this time to indicate a significant landslide failure is imminent or will happen any time soon. Alaskans should be aware of the ongoing risk and follow the advice of local emergency managers and harbormasters and have a plan in place if a tsunami occurs. Although there are several instruments operating near the Barry Arm landslide, a real-time landslide and subsequent tsunami warning system is not yet operational. From the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program and the California Office of Emergency Services:
For a large, local-source tsunami that may arrive in 10-20 minutes:
State and federal agencies are monitoring the slow-moving landslide 28 miles from Whittier, Alaska, in Prince William Sound that could fail and generate a tsunami.
The National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC) installed water level gauges during the extreme low tide in the last week of April, 2021. These gauges will support development of a real-time tsunami warning system for nearby communities but the warning system is not yet operational.
Aerial reconnaissance on May 13, 2021 confirmed that the Alaska Earthquake Center (AEC) seismic station located on the Barry Arm slide was destroyed in late April, 2021. The most probable cause was a snow avalanche. Work to repair and upgrade the seismic monitoring stations and webcam was completed by the AEC on July 11, 2021, restoring real-time seismic data and hourly camera images from station BAE across the fjord from the landslide. Equipment destroyed in the April slide was partially recovered.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) installed an infrasound array in Whittier in early February 2021; Signals likely associated with industrial activity in Whittier continue to be recorded on the infrasound array. No signals suggesting activity from the Barry Arm landslide were detected in the past two weeks, but AVO reports that the infrasound array is fully operational and functioning well. AVO provides background information on how infrasound monitoring works.
The USGS recently published a structure map of landslides at Barry Arm. The landslide structures and movements shown on this map will be used to monitor landslide evolution and help estimate landslide volumes for tsunami modeling. New satellite data, available approximately every 24 days, is examined by USGS scientists. In snow-free conditions, these satellite observations can provide a regular assessment of movement for the entire Cascade, Barry, and Cox glaciers area. Preliminary analysis of radar satellite imagery from early January through July 15, 2021 by the USGS indicates no detectable motion other than small changes at the coastline since late October 2020.
The Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) conducted airborne surveys of the area in June and October 2020, and April 7, 2021. Additional repeat flights are planned for Spring 2021. High-resolution (10 cm) elevation data, collected June 26, 2020, are available. Repeat airborne surveys provide information about centimeter-scale slope movement but require ideal flying and snow-free ground conditions and substantial time for data processing. Lidar scans conducted during the wintertime provide tools to map snow distribution and calculate snow water equivalent in the Barry Arm area.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted a bathymetric survey of the Barry Arm and upper Port Wells area in August, 2020. These data will be used to improve models of potential tsunami propagation across Prince William Sound. NOAA Coast Survey conducted previously planned bathymetric surveys in Port Wells and near Whittier. This activity was not directly related to the Barry Arm landslide tsunami risk, but may yield helpful data.
The City of Whittier recently performed maintenance on and tested their existing tsunami siren and is investigating adding a second alert siren.
The Alaska Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (DHS&EM) provided the City of Whittier with new tsunami evacuation signage.
Coastal communities, mariners, and all visitors in Prince William Sound should remain informed, heed U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) warnings to avoid the immediate area, and review emergency response and evacuation plans in the event of a tsunami. For more information, please contact your local emergency management authority and see these web resources:
If you have questions or more information about the Barry Arm landslide, we encourage you to reach out to DGGS via Facebook or Twitter, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This message will be updated on August 13, 2021, or earlier if the threat level changes. For more information, please see our Barry Arm Summary Information & FAQ page.