Insights from geochemistry and diatoms to characterise a tsunami's deposit and maximum inundation limit

Catherine Chagué-Goff, James Goff, Henri K.Y. Wong, MARCO ANTONIO CISTERNAS VEGA

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47 Scopus citations

Abstract

Geochemical proxies and diatom assemblages were used in combination with grain size characteristics not only to describe the deposit left behind by the 27 February 2010, Maule tsunami at Las Cañas, Maule Region, Chile, but also to trace the maximum inundation limit of the event. The sandy deposit was laid down between 160 and 260. m inland behind an eroded sand dune and a lagoon but reached only 60% of the total tsunami inundation distance of 380. m, which was marked by organic debris, pumice clasts and wooden logs. It consisted of coarse to medium sand that thinned and fined inland. At the most seaward point, the 22. cm thick deposit exhibited a fining upward unit overlain by a couplet of coarsening-fining upward units, suggesting deposition by at least two waves, while farther inland the fining upward deposit was probably left behind by only one wave. Chemical proxies (Ca/Ti vs Sr/Ba) allow us to distinguish the deposit from the surrounding soil and indicate that it was sourced from the beach and/or dune area, with diatom assemblages confirming the marine origin of the deposit. Saltwater indicators (e.g. Cl, S) provide evidence for the maximum inundation limit beyond the extent of the sandy deposit, despite dilution and dissolution by 500. mm of rainfall in the six months since the tsunami. Marine and marine/brackish diatom assemblages decreased landward but were found up to the inundation limit and immediately beyond, suggesting the effect of diatom-bearing sea spray at the wave front or redistribution of the detrital assemblage associated with tsunami inundation due to wind. While the latter might result in a slight over-estimation of the inundation distance, they can be used in combination with chemical proxies to trace the maximum inundation distance of recent and past tsunamis, thus allowing for a better estimation of the magnitude of past events. Post-depositional processes were found to have affected the thinner sandy deposits (<. 5. cm), suggesting that these are unlikely to be preserved in the geological record. This highlights the need to be able to trace the tsunami inundation limit with geochemical and/or diatom proxies without having to rely on sedimentological evidence, as it is now widely recognised that conventional approaches used by tsunami researchers have led to an under-estimation of previous events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-34
Number of pages13
JournalMarine Geology
Volume359
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • 2010 Maule tsunami
  • Chemical signatures
  • Chile
  • Diatoms
  • Source
  • Tsunami inundation limit

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