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Diatoms as an aid in identifying late-Holocene tsunami deposits

Hemphill-Haley, Eileen
TheHolocene 1996 v.6 no.4 pp. 439-448
Bacillariophyceae, beaches, coasts, dunes, earthquakes, estuaries, freshwater lakes, littoral zone, peat, plankton, rivers, sand, tsunamis, British Columbia, Oregon, Puget Sound
Diatoms (Bacillariophyta) help identify the onshore deposits of tsunamis from earthquakes on the Cascadia subduction zone along the Pacific coast of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, and on faults high in the North American plate in the Puget Sound area of Washington. At the Copalis River, Washington, diatom analyses suggest that a tsunami deposit about 300 calendric years old (300 yr BP) originated from sandy shoals of the lower estuary rather than nearby beaches or coastal dunes. At Cultus Bay and West Point, Washington, well-preserved benthic estuarine diatoms in sand sheets overlying tidal-marsh peat indicate that the deposits came from intertidal or nearshore areas of Puget Sound. On an abruptly uplifted mudflat at the landward end of Hood Canal at Lynch Cove, Washington, tidal-flat diatoms refute the possibility of a terrestrial source for the sand. Diatoms in 300-yr-BP tsunami deposits on the Niawiakum River, Washington, confirm that the sand in these deposits had a marine source, and help to identify the landward extent of tsunami inundation. Diatom assemblages in deposits of the 300 yr BP and AD 1964 tsunamis at Port Alberni, British Columbia, consist of different dominant taxa, but both indicate that the sand units originated from Alberni Inlet. Diatoms add to stratigraphic evidence that tsunamis flooded Bradley Lake, a freshwater lake on the south-central Oregon coast, three times during the past 1700 years. Planktonic marine diatoms only found above 1-70-cm-thick sand layers in otherwise clayey lacustrine sediment imply tsunami inundation.