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Scientist finds dozens of unknown submarine landslides in Gulf of Mexico

A Florida State scientist has discovered several dozen previously unidentified underwater landslides in the Gulf of Mexico, which may pose risk to oil and gas infrastructure -- including drilling rigs. File Photo courtesy of BP
A Florida State scientist has discovered several dozen previously unidentified underwater landslides in the Gulf of Mexico, which may pose risk to oil and gas infrastructure -- including drilling rigs. File Photo courtesy of BP

May 19 (UPI) -- Using a new method for analyzing seismic data, Florida State University researcher Wenyuan Fan has identified 85 previously unknown underwater landslides.

The hidden landslides -- discovered between 2008 and 2015 and described this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters -- could pose a risk to oil rigs, pipelines and other underwater oil and gas infrastructure.

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"The observed landslides suggest a possible tsunami hazard for coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico and that seabed infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, including oil platforms and pipelines, is also at risk from the landslides," lead study author Wenyuan Fan, an assistant professor of geophysics at Florida State, said in a news release.

Fan and his research partners identified the landslides among seismic data recorded across the region. Of the 85 newly identified landslides, 10 occurred spontaneously. Several of the other 75 occurred immediately after the passage of a wave generated by an earthquake.

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Fan was able to find the hidden landslides after developing a novel method for surveying earthquake data -- a method that helped Fan more closely analyze what are known as continuous waveforms.

"There are few active faults in the Gulf, and the seismicity is scarce in the region," Fan said. "This puzzled me and concerned me because we live close to the Gulf. With the question and the concern, I looked into the details of these seismic sources and eventually concluded that they are likely to be submarine landslides."

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Researchers haven't turned up any evidence of damage caused by any of the 85 landslides. Most of the landslides occurred in the deepest portions of the Gulf, but in the future, the novel survey methods could be used to monitor landslide risk in coastal regions and places that host oil and gas activity.

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