Tsunamigenic Landslides



Anja Dufresne

Senior Scientist


+49 241 80-96779



Tsunamigenic landslides

Project term: 2016 to 2020


At least 24 large rockslope failures occurred in Glacier Bay National Park in SE Alaska since 1984, our colleagues Coe et al. (2018) report. The resultant rock avalanches cover areas between 5.5 and 22.2 cubic kilometers. Two of these events are studied by research groups that Anja Dufresne from the Department of Engineering Geology is collaborating with.


The 2015 Rock Slope Failure and Tsunami in Icy Bay

rock slope failure Copyright: © © LIH Figure 1. On 17 October 2015, a landslide of roughly 180 million tons of rock landed on the toe of Tyndall Glacier and into the water of Taan Fiord. It sent a tsunami wave that reached as high as 193 m on the opposite valley slopes.

The October 2015 Tyndall Glacier rock avalanche caused one of the largest historic tsunamis in Alaska; maximum wave runup height measured from field evidence was 192 m (Haeussler et al. 2017; Dufresne et al. 2018; Higman et al. 2018). Located in the remote Taan Fiord, an arm of Icy Bay, no people or infrastructure were affected—nor would this event have been noticed if it hadn’t been recorded by the long-period seismic event detector at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York (cf. Ekström and Stark 2013). The slope it originated from has shown signs of deformation since at least 1996 (Meigs et al. 2006); its catastrophic failure in 2015 (Figure 1) released some 76 million cubic meters of rock, most of which now lies beneath fjord waters. Rapid response of a NSF-funded group of international researchers in the summer of 2016 gathered data which include bathymetry, aerial photographs, high resolution DEM, structural and sedimentological field data that, only a few months later, was already altered or destroyed by erosion, sedimentation, and/or advance of the glacier terminus (Dufresne et al. 2018).




  • Higman B, Geertsema M, Shugar D, Lynett P, Dufresne A (2019). The 2015 Taan Fiord landslide and tsunami. Alaska Park Science, Understanding and Preparing for Alaska’s Geohazards 18(1): 7-16.
  • Dufresne A, Wolken G, Hibert C, Bessette-Kirton E, Coe J, Geertsema M, Ekström G (2019). The 2016 Lamplugh rock avalanche, Alaska: Deposit structures and emplacement dynamics. Landslides, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10346-019-01225-4
  • Higman B, Shugar D, Stark CP, Ekström G, Koppes M, Lynett P, Dufresne A, Haeussler P, Geertsema M, Gulick S, Mattox A, Venditti JG, Walton MAL, McCall N, McKittrick E, MacInnes B, Bilderback EL, Tang H, Willis MJ, Richmond B, Reece B, Larsen C, Olson B, Capra J, Ayca A, Bloom C, Williams H, Bonno D, Weiss R, Keen A, Skanavis V, Loso M (2018). The 2015 landslide and tsunami in Taan Fiord, Alaska. Nature Scientific Reports 8(12993).
  • Dufresne A, Geertsema M, Shugar D, Koppes M, Higman B, Haeussler P, Stark C, Venditti J, Bonno D, Larsen C, Gulick SPS, McCall N, Walton MA, Loso MG (2018). Sedimentology and geomorphology of a large tsunamigenic landslide, Taan Fiord, Alaska. Sedimentary Geology – Special Issue ‘Evidence of Geohazards’: 364, 302-318.

Conference presentations:

  • Higman B, Dufresne A, Berg E, Geertsema M, Lynett P, Roberts N, Loso M (2019). Lessons from Taan Fiord and Lituya Bay: is Alaska’s Grewingk Lake poised for catastrophe? AGU Fall Meeting 9-13 December 2019, San Francisco, CA, USA.
  • Koppes MN, Williams H, Geertsema M, Dufresne A (2019). Hazards of a changing cryosphere: a comparison of glacial and paraglacial responses to rapid glacial retreat in coastal fjords. AGU Fall Meeting 9-13 December 2019, San Francisco, CA, USA.
  • Dufresne A, Geertsema M, Shugar DH, Koppes M, Higman B, Haeussler PJ, Stark C, Venditti JG, Bonno D, Larsen C, Gulick SPS, McCall N, Walton M, Loso MG, Willis MJ (2018). The October 2015 tsunamigenic landslide in Taan Fiord, Alaska. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, Austria, 8-13 April 2018.
  • Haeussler PJ, Stark C, Ekström G, Gulick S, Higman B, Bloom C, Bilderback E, Dufresne A, Geertsema M, Guiltier L, Jaffe B, Koppes M, Labay K, Larsen C, Loso M, Lynett P, McCall N, Richmond B, Reece B, Shugar D, Venditti J, Walton M, Weiss R, Williams H (2017). The seismologically detected Taan Fiord landslide and tsunami of 17 October 2015: preliminary findings. Seismological Society of America Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado, USA, 18-24 April 2017.
  • Geertsema M, Wolken G, Stark C, Dufresne A (2016). Large ice-rock avalanches in Glacier Bay National Park. Centennial Science and Stewardship Symposium, Fairbanks, Alaska, 19-21 October 2016.