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Seafloor observations eliminate a landslide as the source of the 1918 Puerto Rico Tsunami

February 3, 2023

The 11 October 1918 devastating tsunami in northwest Puerto Rico had been used as an example for earthquake‐induced landslide tsunami hazard. Three pieces of evidence pointed to a landslide as the origin of the tsunami: the discovery of a large submarine landslide scar from bathymetry data collected by shipboard high‐resolution multibeam sonar, reported breaks of submarine cable within the scar, and the fit of tsunami models to flooding observations. Newly processed seafloor imagery collected by remotely operated vehicle (ROV) show, however, pervasive Fe–Mn crust (patina) on the landslide walls and floor, indicating that the landslide scar is at least several hundred years old. C14">14C dates of sediment covering the landslide floor verify this interpretation. Although we have not searched the region systematically for an alternative tsunami source, we propose a possible source—a two‐segment normal‐fault rupture along the eastern wall of Mona rift. The proposed fault location matches the published normal faults with steep bathymetry and is close to the International Seismological Center–Global Earthquake Model catalog locations of the 1918 mainshock and aftershocks. The ROV observations further show fresh vertical slickensides and rock exposure along the proposed fault trace. Hydrodynamic models from an Mw">Mw 7.2 earthquake rupture along the eastern wall of the rift faithfully reproduce the reported tsunami amplitudes, polarities, and arrival times. Our analysis emphasizes the value of close‐up observations and physical samples to augment remote sensing data in natural hazard studies.

Publication Year 2023
Title Seafloor observations eliminate a landslide as the source of the 1918 Puerto Rico Tsunami
DOI 10.1785/0120220146
Authors Uri S. ten Brink, Jason Chaytor, Claudia Flores, Yong Wei, Simon Detmer, Lilian Lucas, Brian D. Andrews, Aggeliki Georgiopoulou
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
Index ID 70242940
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center