Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Tsunamis in the geological record: Making waves with a cautionary tale from the Mediterranean

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Science Advances  11 Oct 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 10, e1700485
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700485

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From 2000 to 2015, tsunamis and storms killed more than 430,000 people worldwide and affected a further >530 million, with total damages exceeding US$970 billion. These alarming trends, underscored by the tragic events of the 2004 Indian Ocean catastrophe, have fueled increased worldwide demands for assessments of past, present, and future coastal risks. Nonetheless, despite its importance for hazard mitigation, discriminating between storm and tsunami deposits in the geological record is one of the most challenging and hotly contended topics in coastal geoscience. To probe this knowledge gap, we present a 4500-year reconstruction of “tsunami” variability from the Mediterranean based on stratigraphic but not historical archives and assess it in relation to climate records and reconstructions of storminess. We elucidate evidence for previously unrecognized “tsunami megacycles” with three peaks centered on the Little Ice Age, 1600, and 3100 cal. yr B.P. (calibrated years before present). These ~1500-year cycles, strongly correlated with climate deterioration in the Mediterranean/North Atlantic, challenge up to 90% of the original tsunami attributions and suggest, by contrast, that most events are better ascribed to periods of heightened storminess. This timely and provocative finding is crucial in providing appropriately tailored assessments of coastal hazard risk in the Mediterranean and beyond.

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