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“If the methane gas within the sediments were to become disrupted, it could disturb the overlaying sediments and make them more susceptible to underwater landslides (similar to an avalanche). An event such as this could break the communication cables that lie beneath this Hudson Canyon region. A large enough landslide could displace the overlying water and cause giant waves, called tsunamis. This could have a potential major impact on the coastal zone of the Eastern United States.” - Peter Rona, NOAA scientist
Geologic City is back after a long winter break. Over the next few weeks we’ll be visiting the final sites for our year-long project exploring the materials, flows and interconnections between the geologic and the city of New York. The project’s first site for 2011 expands upon a location we first wrote about in-length last winter: the Hudson Canyon.
As part of Geologic City, this week we installed a small exhibition, The Atlantic Cable, at the magnificently mysterious venue Incident Report in Hudson, New York. Our installation explores a speculative incident: a potentially catastrophic event sited at “the end” of today’s Hudson river where the human and geologic converge.
Hudson Canyon is located 100 miles east of the mouth of today’s Hudson River, off the New Jersey coast. It was carved by an ancestral Hudson river during the Pleistocene, over 10,000 years ago, and remains an active shaper of life along the Hudson and coast of New York/New Jersey today. Comparable in size to the Grand Canyon, the Hudson Canyon is one of the largest submarine canyons in the world. Over the years pollutants and contaminates have collected in the Canyon from sewage and garbage dumping into the contemporary Hudson River. But there is much more to be found in the Canyon than the detritus of the industrial age.
Hudson Canyon is also a hub for trans-Atlantic fiber-optic submarine cables that connect the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area to the rest of the world. Over the last few years scientists have been studying the seafloor of the Canyon for methane gas seeps (some researchers think that the resulting fuel could power the United States for centuries). The methane seeps could also potentially trigger underwater landslides or slumping, potentially resulting in tsunamis.
After the recent events in Japan, the threat of tsunamis might seem a bit less remote to many coastal dwellers. Perhaps with good reason. An earthquake off the Newfoundland coast in 1929 triggered an enormous undersea landslide which ruptured 12 telecommunication cables, created 13 foot waves and left 10,000 people homeless. Scientists are also speculating that an ancient tsunami hit what is now New York City around 2,300 years ago sending debris far up the Hudson River. An undersea slide near Hudson Canyon today could disrupt or sever cable communication into and out of the United States-including the internet–and threaten the densely populated East coast with inundation.
image FOP 2011, based on image from TeleGeography‘s 2010 submarine cable map
The first submarine cable laid across the Atlantic Ocean in 1858 was a major achievement of human engineering and perseverance (there had been years of failed attempts prior). Countless cables now litter the ocean floor, “carrying” unfathomable quantities of information at the speed of light.
FOP’s The Atlantic Cable will be up at Incident Report for the next few weeks. For those of you who can’t make it to Hudson, elements of the project will be published in the Geologic City field guide, available next fall.
*Thanks to Thomas J. McCarthy at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs Communications for the submarine cable samples.
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