EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Evidence of an unreported Chilean tsunami highlights the importance of combining geological and historical records in tsunami hazard assessment

Emma Hocking1, Ed Garrett2, Diego Aedo3, Matías Carvajal4, and Daniel Melnick5
Emma Hocking et al.
  • 1Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (
  • 2Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, York, UK
  • 3Facultad de Ciencas Químicas, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile
  • 4Instituto de Geografía, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile
  • 5Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile

Assessing seismic and tsunami hazards commonly relies on historical accounts of past events, but aside from limitations where such chronicles are too short to account for variability in earthquake size, rupture style, tsunamigenesis and the existence of supercycles, even where long written histories exist, records may be biased by temporal gaps due to historical circumstances. We demonstrate that this is the case for the area affected by the magnitude 9.5 1960 Chile earthquake. Historical records document four great earthquakes (M8+) in the last 450 years in this region, but while devastating tsunamis are known to have accompanied earthquakes in 1575, 1837 and 1960 CE, there is no such record of inundation in 1737. The lack of reports of tsunami inundation from the 1737 south-central Chile earthquake has been attributed to either civil unrest or a small tsunami due to deep fault slip below land. Here we cross-check the historical record using a coastal sedimentary record from Chaihuín, a tidal marsh 15 km southwest of Valdivia, close to the region of maximum 1960 slip. Tidal marshes are low energy intertidal settings that may preserve evidence for abrupt co-seismic changes in land level and inundation by extreme waves. We conduct sedimentological and diatom analyses of tidal marsh sediments within the 1737 rupture area and find evidence for a locally-sourced tsunami consistent in age with this event. The evidence is a laterally-extensive sand sheet coincident with abrupt, decametric-scale subsidence. Coupled dislocation-tsunami models place the causative fault slip mostly offshore rather than below land, as had previously been assumed from the absence of historical accounts of a tsunami. Whether associated or not with the 1737 earthquake, our findings reduce the average recurrence interval of tsunami inundation derived from historical records alone, highlighting the importance of combining geological and historical records in order to obtain robust long-term patterns to inform seismic and tsunami hazard assessment.

How to cite: Hocking, E., Garrett, E., Aedo, D., Carvajal, M., and Melnick, D.: Evidence of an unreported Chilean tsunami highlights the importance of combining geological and historical records in tsunami hazard assessment, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-8768,, 2022.