Lituya Bay, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Lituya Bay, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

by | Apr 18, 2020

Lituya Bay is a fjord located in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve on the outer coast of Southeast Alaska, about 100 miles (161 km) northwest of Sitka and 69 miles (111 km) west-northwest of Gustavus, Alaska. The name of the bay means “lake within the point” in the local Tlingit language. It is 9 miles (14.5 km) long and 2 miles (3.2 km) wide at its widest point. The bay was first reported in 1786 by Jean-François de La Pérouse, or Lapérouse, who named it Port des Français. Lituya Bay is famous for four recorded tsunamis in 1854, 1899, 1936, and 1958.

The 1958 mega-tsunami was caused by an earthquake that generated a landslide at the head of the bay in Gilbert Inlet. The landslide created the highest recorded wave in history. The breaking wave had sufficient power to snap off all the trees up to an elevation of 1,720 feet (520 m) on the slope directly opposite the landslide.

As the wave traveled out of the bay it overtopped much of Cenotaph Island where three fishing boats were anchored. The Sunmore was underway and turning towards the bay entrance when it was caught by the wave, estimated to be 80 feet (24 m) high, and flung over Harbor Point. All that was found later was an oil slick marking the spot where the boat went down in deep water and the two people on board were killed. The Edrie was at anchor but the chain snapped as the boat rose to meet the wave. At the top of the wave, the captain regained enough control of the boat to hold on and steer around the debris being carried by the wave. The Badger was hit by the wave and carried over La Chaussee Spit that nearly encloses the bay mouth, and was dumped stern first into the open ocean. After the crash landing, the boat immediately began to sink surrounded by acres of wood debris.  The crew managed to get into a skiff and were rescued at nearly midnight by the vessel Lumen which had picked its way through the miles of debris looking for signs of survivors in the pitch dark. Read more here and here. Explore more of Lituya Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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