On 26 December 2004, a major earthquake off the coast of Indonesia sent towering waves crashing onto Indian Ocean coasts, from Asia to Africa, killing over 230,000 people and displacing millions more. Since then, the phenomenon of tsunamis has been closely studied in at attempt to predict and implement a warning system to protect against future devastation.
The geographers Jürgen Newig and Dieter Kelletat from the University of Kiel in northern Germany have studied a tsunami that hit the North Sea coastline in 1858 and have concluded that it could happen again.
“The risk of tsunamis off the North Sea coastal area is greater than previously thought,” Kelletat told the German newspaper Der Spiegel, explaining that the 1858 tsunami was caused by an underwater landslide in the Atlantic Ocean. “The massive waves are a threat to a region that caters to thousands of tourists every year.”
However, Holger Toxvig, a specialist from the Coastal Directorate, said that there is no need to panic if you find yourself on the west coast of Jutland.
“Tsunamis are extremely rare,” Toxvig told Berlingske newspaper. "But should one happen to come on a warm summers day, when beaches are packed with tourists, then the damage could be immense.”
Toxvig referred to the norther Jutland beach area of Hvide Sande, where once a century the sea level rises to 3.11 metres above normal. He said that if the sea level were to once again raise by 6 metres, as it did in 1858, it could lead to a disastrous situation.
Meteorological institute DMI has released a report that suggested that the risk of a tsunami off Danish coasts was very low. DMI predicted that a tsunami was likely to occur once every 1,000 years and that it would most likely be catalysed by a seabed shift in an area north of Scotland.
Erik Buch, who was part of the DMI team that prepared the report, to Berlingske he was not in a position to judge whether the German scientists are correct in their new analysis. However, he did say that there is a comprehensive tsunami warning system being put in place throughout Europe.
In Denmark, DMI has been assigned the responsibility of being the tsunami watchdog and will convey any dangers of tsunamis the same way they do major storm systems, utilising the media, police and other emergency crews.
“The tsunami warning system is scheduled to be ready and fully implemented sometime next year,” Buch told Berlingske.
Buch also said that while a storm can be predicted days ahead of time, with a tsunami there is only about a five to six hour window before the water masses hit the coast.