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Tsunami history over the past 2000 years on the Sanriku coast, Japan, determined using gravel deposits to estimate tsunami inundation behavior

Goto, Tomoko, Satake, Kenji, Sugai, Toshihiko, Ishibe, Takeo, Harada, Tomoya, Gusman, Aditya Riadi
Sedimentary geology 2019 v.382 pp. 85-102
Bacillariophyceae, coasts, earthquakes, gravel, lowlands, microfossils, sand, sea level, storms, stream channels, surveys, tsunamis, watersheds, Japan
At Numanohama Marsh on the rocky Sanriku coast in northeast Japan, we identified 17 sand layers with sedimentary structures characteristic of event deposits (i.e., a sharp erosional contact with the underlying unit, a normal and/or inverse grading structure, parallel/cross lamination, mud clasts, and/or a thin mud layer). Abundant marine nannofossils, coccoliths, and the small catchment area in the narrow valley suggest that these event layers were likely formed by inundations during tsunamis or storms. Among the 17 sand layers, nine contained gravels derived from the beach, riverbed, or slope areas. Six event layers contained all three of these gravels, suggesting a strong inflow current that transported round pebbles from the beach, erosion of wall rock in the valley during the inflow and outflow phases, and a backwash current that caused sub-angular riverbed gravel to accumulate in lowland areas. These six layers were traced up to 490 m inland from the coastline (present elevation: 7 m above mean sea level) and were several cm thick at almost every survey point. We concluded that these six event layers are tsunami deposits, and dating results revealed that they correlate with the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake; the 1933 and 1896 Sanriku-oki earthquakes; any of the 1763 Aomori-oki, 1793 Miyagi-oki, and 1856 Aomori-oki earthquakes; the 1611 Tohoku-oki earthquake; and the 869 Tohoku-oki (Jogan) earthquake. In addition, changes in the sedimentary environment inferred from diatom assemblages were well correlated with the deposition of three of the event layers. Two historical earthquakes — the 1454 and 1611 Tohoku-oki earthquakes — have been previously suggested as being the immediate predecessors of the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake, and our dating results favor the 1611 earthquake. Although the source region of the 869 Tohoku-oki (Jogan) earthquake has been estimated to have been off the Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, our results suggest that the source region extended further north along the Japan Trench.