The use of boulders for characterising past tsunamis

Lessons from the 2004 Indian Ocean and 2009 South Pacific tsunamis

Samuel Etienne*, Mark Buckley, Raphaël Paris, Aruna K. Nandasena, Kate Clark, Luke Strotz, Catherine Chagué-Goff, James Goff, Bruce Richmond

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

75 Citations (Scopus)


Tsunamis are high energy events capable of transporting extremely heavy loads including boulders. We compare boulder deposits created by two modern tsunami events, the 2004 Indian Ocean and the 2009 South Pacific tsunamis, where the boulder sources were in similar topographic settings, and for which we have accurate data on the wave characteristics. Boulder distribution, preferential orientation and numerical simulation of boulder transport are discussed. A comparison between the impacts of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean tsunamis shows similar characteristics, such as limited landward extent and the absence of landward fining. Differences between the results from modelling and field data are most probably caused by variables such as coastal plain roughness (buildings, trees), microtopography, particle shape, and boulder collision during transport that are summarised as coefficients in the mathematical models. Characterising modern events through coarse sediment deposits provides valuable information to help identify and interpret palaeo-tsunami imprints on coastal landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-90
Number of pages15
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes

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