A high concentration of submarine landslides have been documented from an area of 370 square kilometres of seafloor in the north-east of Marsaxlokk. The discovery was made using advanced seafloor exploration techniques and reported in a study led by Dr Aaron Micallef, a marine geologist at the Department of Physics, University of Malta.
The 67 submarine landslides have an area of some 18 km, which is equivalent to about five times the size of the island of Comino. They occur on very gentle slopes and have formed cliffs that are up to 50 m in height. Some of the landslides were powerful enough to erode through extensive rock walls.
The University said submarine landslides constitute a major hazard to seabed infrastructure, such as pipelines and cables, and are also a potential source of tsunamis.
Because of their relatively small size and low speed, the landslides discovered are not thought to constitute a significant or imminent tsunami hazard, although this can only be determined precisely once more detailed analyses are carried out.
This is not the first time that submarine landslides have been reported in the vicinity of the Maltese Islands. Submarine landslides are poorly understood processes, and there is an urgent need to map them, estimate the likelihood of their occurrence, and determine if they pose a risk to the Maltese Islands and the surrounding seabed infrastructure.
The study related to this discovery was presented at the biennial conference on “Submarine mass movements and their consequence” held in Kiel, Germany, and was funded by Eurofleets and Marie Curie Actions.