Stratigraphic evidence of two historical tsunamis on the semi-arid coast of north-central Chile

Jessica M. DePaolis, Tina Dura, Breanyn MacInnes, Lisa L. Ely, Marco Cisternas, Matías Carvajal, Hui Tang, Hermann M. Fritz, Cyntia Mizobe, Robert L. Wesson, Gino Figueroa, Nicole Brennan, Benjamin P. Horton, Jessica E. Pilarczyk, D. Reide Corbett, Benjamin C. Gill, Robert Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


On September 16, 2015, a Mw 8.3 earthquake struck the north-central Chile coast, triggering a tsunami observed along 500 km of coastline, between Huasco (28.5°S) and San Antonio (33.5°S). This tsunami provided a unique opportunity to examine the nature of tsunami deposits in a semi-arid, siliciclastic environment where stratigraphic and sedimentological records of past tsunamis are difficult to distinguish. To improve our ability to identify such evidence, we targeted one of the few low-energy, organic-rich depositional environments in north-central Chile: Pachingo marsh in Tongoy Bay (30.3°S). We found sedimentary evidence of the 2015 and one previous tsunami as tabular sand sheets. Both deposits are composed of poorly to moderately sorted, gray-brown, fine-to medium-grained sand and are distinct from underlying and overlying organic-rich silt. Both sand beds thin (from ∼20 cm to <1 cm) and fine landward, and show normal grading. The older sand bed is thicker and extends over 125 m further inland than the 2015 tsunami deposit. To model the relative size of the tsunamis that deposited each sand bed, we employed tsunami flow inversion. Our results show that the older sand bed was produced by higher flow speeds and depths than those in 2015. Anthropogenic evidence along with 137Cs and 210Pb dating constrains the age of the older tsunami to the last ∼110 years. We suggest that the older sand bed was deposited by the large tsunami in 1922 CE sourced to the north of our study site. This deposit represents the first geologic evidence of a pre-2015 tsunami along the semi-arid north-central Chile coast and highlights the current and continuing tsunami hazard in the region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107052
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Coastal hazards
  • Earthquakes
  • North-central Chile
  • Paleotsunamis
  • Tsunami inundation


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