The giant 1960 tsunami in the context of a 6000-year record of paleotsunamis and coastal evolution in south-central Chile


The tsunami associated with the giant 9.5 M-w 1960 Chile earthquake deposited an extensive sand layer above organic-rich soils near Queule (39.3 degrees S, 73.2 degrees W), south-central Chile. Using the 1960 tsunami deposits, together with eye-witness observations and numerical simulations of tsunami inundation, we tested the tsunami inundation sensitivity of the site to different earthquake slip distributions. Stratigraphically below the 1960 deposit are two additional widespread sand layers interpreted as tsunami deposits with maximum ages of 4960-4520 and 5930-5740 cal BP. This >4500-year gap of tsunami deposits preserved in the stratigraphic record is inconsistent with written and geological records of large tsunamis in south-central Chile in 1575, 1837, and possibly 1737. We explain this discrepancy by: (1) poor preservation of tsunami deposits due to reduced accommodation space from relative sea-level fall during the late Holocene; (2) recently evolved coastal geomorphology that increased sediment availability for tsunami deposit formation in 1960; and/or (3) the possibility that the 1960 tsunami was significantly larger at this particular location than other tsunamis in the past >4500 years. Our research illustrates the complexities of reconstructing a complete stratigraphic record of past tsunamis from a single site for tsunami hazard assessment.

Chile 1960 earthquake, coastal geomorphology, coastal hazard, earthquake geomorphology, paleoseismology, tsunami deposits