EGU21-586, updated on 03 Mar 2021
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Oral legend and geological evidence for a 16th century giant tsunami in Kiribati, central Pacific

James Terry1, Robert Karoro2, Gennady Gienko3, Marta Wieczorek4, and Annie Lau5
James Terry et al.
  • 1College of Natural and Health Sciences, Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (
  • 2Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development, Republic of Kiribati
  • 3Department of Geomatics, University of Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska, USA
  • 4College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • 5School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Within Oceania, the vast Central and Western Pacific (CEWEP) is an intriguing anomaly because of the scarcity of historical tsunami observations and the complete absence of dated palaeotsunami events.  This study establishes the first dated high-magnitude palaeotsunami event within the CEWEP region.  Both geological data and oral legend are presented for a palaeotsunami that struck remote Makin atoll in northernmost Kiribati towards the end of the 16th century.  Narration of the euhemeristic myth by the Wiin te Maneaba, traditional storyteller on Makin, offered important details supporting a tsunami hypothesis.  The legend preserves credible information surrounding the giant-wave origin of Rebua and Tokia, two prominent named subaerial reefblocks of megaclast size that were produced and transported shorewards away from the reef edge by the event.  The youngest U-Th age-dates for fossil coral samples in the reefblocks give a maximum age for the palaeotsunami of circa AD 1576.  Several far-field Pacific Rim and regional possibilities exist for tsunamigenesis.  These include subduction-zone seismicity and catastrophic volcanic eruption, both of which have been linked to late 15th century palaeotsunamis recorded elsewhere in the Pacific Islands.  Available evidence, however, suggests that the ~AD 1576 Makin event was more likely locally generated by tsunamigenic submarine slope failure associated with the giant arcuate bight structure that characterises the northern atoll rim.

How to cite: Terry, J., Karoro, R., Gienko, G., Wieczorek, M., and Lau, A.: Oral legend and geological evidence for a 16th century giant tsunami in Kiribati, central Pacific, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-586,, 2021.

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