Sedimentary evidence of prehistoric distant-source tsunamis in the Hawaiian Islands

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Over the past 200 years of written records, the Hawaiian Islands have experienced tens of tsunamis generated by earthquakes in the subduction zones of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ (for example, Alaska–Aleutian, Kuril–Kamchatka, Chile and Japan). Mapping and dating anomalous beds of sand and silt deposited by tsunamis in low-lying areas along Pacific coasts, even those distant from subduction zones, is critical for assessing tsunami hazard throughout the Pacific basin. This study searched for evidence of tsunami inundation using stratigraphic and sedimentological analyses of potential tsunami deposits beneath present and former Hawaiian wetlands, coastal lagoons, and river floodplains. Coastal wetland sites on the islands of Hawai΄i, Maui, O΄ahu and Kaua΄i were selected based on historical tsunami runup, numerical inundation modelling, proximity to sandy source sediments, degree of historical wetland disturbance, and breadth of prior geological and archaeological investigations. Sand beds containing marine calcareous sediment within peaty and/or muddy wetland deposits on the north and north-eastern shores of Kaua΄i, O΄ahu and Hawai΄i were interpreted as tsunami deposits. At some sites, deposits of the 1946 and 1957 Aleutian tsunamis are analogues for deeper, older probable tsunami deposits. Radiocarbon-based age models date sand beds from three sites to ca 700 to 500 cal yr bp, which overlaps ages for tsunami deposits in the eastern Aleutian Islands that record a local subduction zone earthquake. The overlapping modelled ages for tsunami deposits at the study sites support a plausible correlation with an eastern Aleutian earthquake source for a large prehistoric tsunami in the Hawaiian Islands.




La Selle, S., Richmond, B. M., Jaffe, B. E., Nelson, A. R., Griswold, F. R., Arcos, M. E. M., … Gelfenbaum, G. (2020). Sedimentary evidence of prehistoric distant-source tsunamis in the Hawaiian Islands. Sedimentology, 67(3), 1249–1273.

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