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Tsunami geology in paleoseismology

January 1, 2015

The 2004 Indian Ocean and 2011 Tohoku-oki disasters dramatically demonstrated the destructiveness and deadliness of tsunamis. For the assessment of future risk posed by tsunamis it is necessary to understand past tsunami events. Recent work on tsunami deposits has provided new information on paleotsunami events, including their recurrence interval and the size of the tsunamis (e.g. [187–189]). Tsunamis are observed not only on the margin of oceans but also in lakes. The majority of tsunamis are generated by earthquakes, but other events that displace water such as landslides and volcanic eruptions can also generate tsunamis. These non-earthquake tsunamis occur less frequently than earthquake tsunamis; it is, therefore, very important to find and study geologic evidence for past eruption and submarine landslide triggered tsunami events, as their rare occurrence may lead to risks being underestimated. Geologic investigations of tsunamis have historically relied on earthquake geology. Geophysicists estimate the parameters of vertical coseismic displacement that tsunami modelers use as a tsunami's initial condition. The modelers then let the simulated tsunami run ashore. This approach suffers from the relationship between the earthquake and seafloor displacement, the pertinent parameter in tsunami generation, being equivocal. In recent years, geologic investigations of tsunamis have added sedimentology and micropaleontology, which focus on identifying and interpreting depositional and erosional features of tsunamis. For example, coastal sediment may contain deposits that provide important information on past tsunami events [190, 191]. In some cases, a tsunami is recorded by a single sand layer. Elsewhere, tsunami deposits can consist of complex layers of mud, sand, and boulders, containing abundant stratigraphic evidence for sediment reworking and redeposition. These onshore sediments are geologic evidence for tsunamis and are called ‘tsunami deposits’ (Figs. 26 and 27). Tsunami deposits can be classified into two groups: modern tsunami deposits and paleotsunami deposits. A modern tsunami deposit is a deposit whose source event is known. A paleotsunami deposit is a deposit whose age is estimated and has a source that is either inferred to be a historical event or is unknown.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Tsunami geology in paleoseismology
Authors Yuichi Nishimura, Bruce E. Jaffe
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70157120
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center