Estimating coseismic coastal uplift with an intertidal mussel: Calibration for the 2010 Maule Chile earthquake (M w = 8.8)

Daniel Melnick, Marco Cisternas, Marcos Moreno, Ricardo Norambuena

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49 Scopus citations


Coseismic coastal uplift has been quantified using sessile intertidal organisms after several great earthquakes following FitzRoy's pioneer measurements in 1835. A dense survey of such markers may complement space geodetic data to obtain an accurate distribution of fault slip and earthquake segmentation. However, uplift estimates based on diverse intertidal organisms tend to differ, because of few methodological and comparative studies. Here, we calibrate and estimate coastal uplift in the southern segment of the 2010 Maule, Chile earthquake (M w = 8.8) using >1100 post-earthquake elevation measurements of the sessile mussel Perumytilus purpuratus. This mussel is the predominant competitor for rocky shores all along the Pacific coast of South America, where it forms fringes or belts distinctively in the middle intertidal zone. These belts are centered at mean sea level and their width should equal one third of the tidal range. We measured belt widths close to this value at 40% of the sites, but overall widths are highly variable due to the unevenness in belt tops; belt bases, in turn, are rather regular. Belt top unevenness apparently results from locally-enhanced wave splash, whereas belt base evenness is controlled by predation. According to our measurements made beyond the earthquake rupture, the belt base is at the bottom of the middle intertidal zone, and thus we propose to estimate coastal uplift using the belt base mean elevation plus one sixth of the tidal range to reach mean sea level. Within errors our estimates agree with GPS displacements but differ from other methods. Comparisons of joint inversions for megathrust slip suggest combining space geodetic data with estimates from intertidal organisms may locally increase the detail of slip distributions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-42
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 24 May 2012


  • Chile
  • Coastal uplift
  • Intertidal organisms
  • Maule earthquake
  • Perumytilus mussels
  • Slip distribution


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