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This article is from the In-Depth Report A Guide to Earthquakes

New York City's natural hazards: Rats, roaches and … tsunamis?

Did a big wave hit the Big Apple way back when? Scientists say a tsunami struck the New York City area 2,300 years ago, possibly as a result of a meteorite crashing into the Atlantic Ocean.

“It would have been a bad day to end all bad days,” research scientist Dallas Abbott of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory tells today's New York Times.

While no one has found a large crater that would indicate that a meteorite struck, Abbott discovered miniscule diamonds and tiny carbon spheres in Hudson River sediment that may be signs that a rock 330 feet (100 meters) across hit the New York City area. Abbott and colleagues at Harvard University reported their finding earlier this month at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Scientists working on Long Island and the New Jersey shore previously found thick deposits of sediment that may indicate a tsunami hit the area. Still, there's no archeological evidence of a tsunami there, and the new suggestion of a meteorite impact in the Atlantic isn’t enough to convince all other scientists that a big wave occurred.

"To get a wave 2.5 meters high that far up the Hudson, you need a wave 20 meters high at Manhattan," Steven Ward, a research geophysicist  at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Discovery News. "It would've gone several hundred meters inland on Long Island; you should see evidence of this thing all over the place."

This isn’t the first time scientists have challenged the conventional wisdom that natural hazards don't happen in the Big Apple. A Columbia University study in August suggested there's more seismic activity around New York than originally  believed, though the chance of an earthquake striking the city is still unlikely.

Image of downtown New York © iStockphoto/Dennis Morris

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