Coseismic or Landslide? The source of the 2018 Palu Tsunami

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Amy Williamson, Diego Melgar , Xiaohua Xu, Chris Milliner


On 28 September, 2018, Indonesia was struck by a MW 7.5 strike-slip earthquake. An unexpected tsunami followed, inundating nearby coastlines leading to extensive damage. Given the traditionally non-tsunamigenic mechanism, it is important to ascertain if the source of the tsunami is indeed from coseismic deformation, or something else, such as shaking induced landsliding. Here we determine the leading cause of the tsunami is a complex combination of both. We constrain the coseismic slip from the earthquake using static offsets from geodetic observations and validate the resultant “coseismic-only” tsunami to observations from tide gauge and survey data. This model alone, while fitting some localized run-up measurements overall fails to reproduce both the timing and scale of the tsunami. We also model coastal collapses identified through rapidly acquired satellite imagery and video footage as well as explore the possibility of submarine landsliding using tsunami ray tracing. The tsunami model results from the landslide sources, in conjunction with the coseismic generated tsunami show a greatly improved fit to both tide gauge and field survey data. Our results highlight a case of a damaging tsunami that’s primary source is not seismic. Tsunamis of this nature, while less common, are difficult to provide warning for and are underrepresented in regional tsunami hazard analysis.



Earth Sciences, Geophysics and Seismology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics



Published: 2019-09-11 00:37


GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) 2.1