A razor blade cut down forests: a giant wave in Lituya Bay recognized as the most powerful tsunami

Giant wave in Lituya Bay recognized as the most powerful tsunami

French explorer Jean-François de Galaup La Peruse in 1786 encountered a strange phenomenon that he observed in southeast Alaska. He was intrigued by the strange forest line that surrounded the narrow fjord. The forest stands were cut like a razor blade. And that observation was the first in history that the protected waters of the bay were actually destructive. Three boats were sent to measure the depth of the water in the bay.

Two of them turned over, they were drawn into the raging tidal currents that were amplified by the narrow shape of the fjord. 26 people died and their remains could not be found, they were carried far away by the current.


The dangerous place in the Lituya Gulf was named Cenotaph, which translates as empty tomb. The title turned out to be very fitting. In 1898, an earthquake that struck caused a giant tidal wave. It destroyed local settlements and killed several people. Another powerful wave hit this coast in 1936. But the most powerful event was recorded in 1958, when the waters of Lituya Bay rose to a gigantic height.

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake destroyed the Fairweather Fault, causing 90 million tonnes of rock to fall into the bay, the equivalent of 8 million dump trucks. Eyewitnesses described what was happening as chaos and fear.

The blast wave and the cracked glacier were replaced by the giant waves with chunks of ice. The wave washed away boats with fishermen, destroyed the lighthouse. But the strangest destruction was found in the forests of the coastal zone. The geologists called it the clipping line.


It stretches 200 meters into the bay. The waves rose to a height of over 520 meters. Photos taken in those days after the tsunami have survived to this day, they show a ring of damage. The evidence of catastrophic destruction is visible to this day from space. After 60 years, echoes of past events can be observed in forest plantations.

The tsunami broke almost all trees and washed away all vegetation. The plants that occupied 4 square kilometers from the coast, were literally cut out of the soil. That phenomenon is recognized as the most powerful tsunami. Today the scientists say that such consequences could be if an asteroid fell into the water.