Examination of the largest-possible tsunamis (Level 2) generated along the Nankai and Suruga troughs during the past 4000 years based on studies of tsunami deposits from the 2011 Tohoku-oki tsunami
© Kitamura. 2016
Received: 30 December 2015
Accepted: 25 April 2016
Published: 12 May 2016
Japanese historical documents reveal that Mw 8 class earthquakes have occurred every 100–150 years along the Suruga and Nankai troughs since the 684 Hakuho earthquake. These earthquakes have commonly caused large tsunamis with wave heights of up to 10 m in the Japanese coastal area along the Suruga and Nankai troughs. From the perspective of tsunami disaster management, these tsunamis are designated as Level 1 tsunamis and are the basis for the design of coastal protection facilities. A Mw 9.0 earthquake (the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake) and a mega-tsunami with wave heights of 10–40 m struck the Pacific coast of the northeastern Japanese mainland on 11 March 2011, and far exceeded pre-disaster predictions of wave height. Based on the lessons learned from the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake, the Japanese Government predicted the tsunami heights of the largest-possible tsunami (termed a Level 2 tsunami) that could be generated in the Suruga and Nankai troughs. The difference in wave heights between Level 1 and Level 2 tsunamis exceeds 20 m in some areas, including the southern Izu Peninsula. This study reviews the distribution of prehistorical tsunami deposits and tsunami boulders during the past 4000 years, based on previous studies in the coastal area of Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. The results show that a tsunami deposit dated at 3400–3300 cal BP can be traced between the Shimizu, Shizuoka and Rokken-gawa lowlands, whereas no geologic evidence related to the corresponding tsunami (the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami) was found on the southern Izu Peninsula. Thus, the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami is not classified as a Level 2 tsunami.
The wave height of a Level 2 tsunami would be 1–20 m higher than that of a Level 1 tsunami for all areas in Shizuoka Prefecture (Fig. 5). For disaster preparedness in Japan, it is important to examine the occurrences of Level 2 tsunamis over time scales of several thousand years based on analyses of tsunami deposits. The wave height of a Level 2 tsunami in the Suruga and Nankai troughs (Fig. 4) would be similar to that of the Tohoku-oki tsunami (Fig. 1). In addition, the main morphological elements from marsh through beach ridge to the open Pacific Ocean are similar in both the coastal areas of Shizuoka Prefecture (Fujiwara et al. 2013; Kitamura et al. 2013a, b, 2015a; Kitamura and Kobayashi 2014a, b; Kitamura and Kawate 2015) and the Tohoku area (e.g., Goto et al. 2011; Abe et al. 2012; Takashimizu et al. 2012; Koiwa et al. 2014; Ishimura and Miyauchi 2015). Therefore, the sedimentary characteristics and spatial distributions of the tsunami deposits formed by the Tohoku-oki tsunami are used as a reference for determining the deposits that would be generated by a Level 2 tsunami in the coastal area of Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.
The Tohoku-oki tsunami deposits were reviewed by Goto et al. (2012). Here, I summarize this previous review and cover advances made since that study. In addition, I compile existing data on the stratigraphic distribution of prehistorical tsunami deposits and tsunami boulders in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Summary of sandy tsunami deposits related to the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake
Height amsl (m)
Maximum thickness (cm)
Numbers of layers
Presence of marine fossils
Presence of rip-up clasts
Atsuma river, Hokkaido
3.53 (inundation height)
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) Sand layers seperated by mud drape.
Parallel > > cross
Oota et al. 2012
Misawa coast, Aomori Prefecture
3.5–8.8 (flow height)
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) Normal grading.
Massive > parallel > cross
Well to moderately
Nakamura et al. 2012
Southern Misawa coast, Aomori Prefecture
8 (run up height)
1 to 3
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) Normal grading > reverse grading.
Koiwa et al. 2014
Mouth of Fudai river, Iwate Prefecture
23 (run up height)
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) Normal grading.
Seo and Okushi 2012
Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture
28.1 (flow depth at the coast)
(1) Erosinal basement. normal and inverse grading
Yamada et al. 2014
Koyadori, Iwate prefecture
26-29 (run up height)
13-18 (inundation height)
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) The lower unit is composed of coarse sediments with normal grading. The upper unit comprises finer sediments.
Ishimura and Miyauchi 2015
Rikuzen Takada, Iwate Prefecture
19.9 (run up height)
14-15 (inundation height)
1 to 4
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) The normally graded subunit was generally thicker than the inverse-graded one.
Parallell > > cross
Moderately to poorly
Naruse et al. 2012
Beach along Matsushima bay, Miyagi Prefecture
8-14 (flow height at the coast)
Fujiwara et al. 2014
Sendai Plain, Miyagi Prefecture
11 (flow height at the coast)
1 to 2
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) Normal grading > > massive.
Parallell > > cross
Very rare diatoms
Goto et al. 2011; Kitamura and Wakayama 2011; Shishikura 2011; Abe et al. 2012; Pilarczyk et al. 2012; Szczuciński et al. 2012; Takashimizu et al. 2012; Putra et al. 2013; Fujiwara and Tanigawa 2014; Goto et al. 2014a, b
Minami-Souma, Fukushima Prefecture
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) Normal grading.
Iijima et al. 2013
Kita-Ibaraki, Ibaraki Prefecture
5.47 (flow height at the coast)
1 to 4
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) Sand layers were often seperated by mud drape.
(3) Massive > normal grading.
Massive > parallel
Yamada and Fujino 2013
Norther Boso Peninsular, Chiba Prefecture
6 (flow height at the coast)
(1) Erosinal basement.
(2) The fine alternation of sand sheet and overlying mud drape.
Fujiwara et al. 2012
It is noteworthy that marine fossils were only detected in a few areas. The presence of marine fossils in sedimentary deposits has been regarded as a key criterion for the identification of paleotsunami events in the geologic record (e.g., Chagué-Goff et al. 2011; Clark et al. 2011). Sugawara et al. (2014) performed numerical modeling to explain the absence of marine fossils, and demonstrated that the tsunami caused a significant amount of erosion on beaches and in coastal forest areas, but was minor on the offshore seafloor where marine organisms are most concentrated.
The 2011 tsunami deposit is up to 40 cm thick and extends up to 4.5 km inland on the Sendai Plain of Miyagi Prefecture (Goto et al. 2011; Takashimizu et al. 2012). Takashimizu et al. (2012) and Goto et al. (2014b) examined the relation between the thickness of the tsunami deposit and flow depth based on spatial variations in the thickness of the 2011 tsunami deposit. The results show that the sediment thickness increased concomitantly with increasing flow depth, and that the thickness reached its peak value when the flow depth was 4–5 m. For flow depths greater than 5 m, almost no deposition occurred; instead, the erosion of surface sediments outweighed the deposition from the tsunami.
Abe et al. (2012) examined the relationship between the maximum extent of sandy tsunami deposits and the inundation distance of the 2011 Tohoku-oki tsunami on the Sendai Plain. The results showed that ≥0.5 cm thick sandy tsunami deposits on seaward-facing slopes commonly extend to over 90 % of the inundation distance where the inundation distance is less than 2.5 km, whereas the maximum limit of ≥0.5 cm thick sand layers on flat plains is 3 km (57–76 % of the inundation distance) for an inundation distance exceeding 2.5 km. This relationship between the maximum extent of sandy tsunami deposits and inundation distance is consistent with that of the 15 November 2006 Kuril Island tsunami reported by MacInnes et al. (2009).
Namegaya and Satake (2014) compared the distribution of the Jogan sandy tsunami deposit with that of the 2011 sandy tsunami deposit on the Sendai and Ishinomaki plains, and estimated that the rupture length of the 869 Jogan earthquake was at least 200 km and its minimum moment magnitude was 8.6. The Jogan sandy tsunami deposits have also been reported from the Sanriku Coast (Sugawara et al. 2012; Ishimura and Miyauchi 2015) and from Fukushima Prefecture (Shishikura et al. 2010; Sawai et al. 2012).
Results and discussion
Prehistorical tsunami deposits in Shizuoka Prefecture
The prehistorical tsunami deposits in Shizuoka Prefecture have been reviewed by Komatsubara et al. (2006) and Komatsubara and Fujiwara (2007). Here, I summarize the previous reviews as well as more recent information.
Southern Izu Peninsula
Kitamura et al. (2014) reported a tsunami boulder, 3.4 m long and ~32 metric tons in weight, which was rolled by the Ansei-Tokai tsunami onto a coastal plateau at Nabeta Bay (Fig. 6d), based on the 14C ages of the emergent sessile assemblages. In this area, a tsunami height of more than 20 m for a Level 2 tsunami was predicted (Fig. 6). Many large boulders are present on the coastal plateau around Nabeta Bay, although boulders do not occur above the supratidal area.
Kitamura and Kobayashi (2014b) analyzed Holocene sediment cores (9–23 m long) from 12 sites (2.1–8.2 m amsl) in the fluvial–coastal lowland of Shimizu Plain (Fig. 9). Six sites are located within the inundation area of a Level 2 tsunami (Fig. 9). Sites 1, 3, 4, and 12 are located within the inundation area of the Ansei-Tokai tsunami (Shizuoka Prefectural Government 2011).
Kitamura and Kobayashi (2014b) identified four prehistorical tsunami deposits (T-I to T-IV) from shallow-water (from low tide to 40 m depth) muddy-bay deposits (Fig. 9). The deposits yield 14C ages of 6180–6010 to 5700–5580 cal BP for T-I, 5700–5580 to 5520–5320 cal BP for T-II, 4335–4125 to 4250–4067 cal BP for T-III, and 3670–3540 to 3500–3360 cal BP for T-IV. Kitamura and Kobayashi (2014b) also found three event deposits (beds 1–3) at site 1-1, and concluded that these beds may have formed during the 1498 Meio or 1707 Hoei earthquakes.
Kitamura et al. (2013b) analyzed the stratigraphy and paleoenvironmental setting of Holocene deposits based on sediment cores (8–9 m long) from seven sites (6.2–7.8 m amsl) in the Oya lowland (Fig. 11). All sites are located outside the inundation area of a Level 2 tsunami. The area is protected by a coastal dike. Sites 1, 3, and 4 are located within the inundation area of the Ansei-Tokai tsunami (Shizuoka Prefectural Government 2011). Kitamura et al. (2013b) identified three possible tsunami deposits: sand beds T0 (around AD 1000), T1 (3565–3486 cal BP), and T2 (around 4000 cal BP) from a lagoonal mud sequence. Sand bed T1 was observed at five sites (3.2–4.5 m amsl), whereas sand beds T0 and T2 were detected at only one site each, site 4 and site 2, respectively (Fig. 11).
On the basis of temporal changes in diatom assemblages, Kitamura et al. (2013b) suggested that sand bed T1 formed as a result of ruptures along megathrusts in the Suruga and/or Nankai troughs. At one archeological site (Nagasaki remains) on the northern Shizuoka Plain (Fig. 11a), Shizuoka Prefecture Archaeological Survey Institute (1991) found faulted layers (Seilacher 1969) immediately below undeformed sediment including the Kawagodaira Pumice (Kg), which was erupted between 1210 and 1187 cal BC (95.4 % confidence level; Tani et al. 2013). As the age of formation of the sediment-deformation structures is similar to that of the deposition of sand bed T1, it is likely that they were caused by the same earthquake. Kitamura et al. (2013b) concluded that the youngest sand bed, T0, may be correlated with the 1096 Eicho earthquake, although the possibility of the 1099 Kowa earthquake was not excluded.
Osuga lowland, Kakegawa
The Osuga lowland extends ~2 km from the shoreline at Kakegawa (Fig. 5). The wave height of the tsunami during the Ansei-Tokai earthquake is estimated to have been 4 m in the area 6 km east of the lowland (Fig. 3), and there are no historical documents of a tsunami disaster caused by the Hoei tsunami in and around this area. The co-seismic uplift caused by the Ansei-Tokai earthquake is estimated to have been 0.9 m in this area (Fig. 11) (Ishibashi 1984). Predicted wave heights are 8–10 m for a Level 2 tsunami (Fig. 5).
Fujiwara et al. (2013) examined the stratigraphy and paleoenvironmental setting of Holocene terrestrial deposits based on sediment cores (2–3 m) from 20 sites (0.6–1.0 m amsl) (Fig. 15). All sites were located outside the inundation area of a Level 2 tsunami, although these sites are located within the inundation area of the Ansei-Tokai tsunami (Shizuoka Prefectural Government 2011). Fujiwara et al. (2013) identified a sandy tsunami deposit dated at ca. 3400–3300 cal BP within a cored transect (Fig. 14). The sand deposit, which is composed of cross-stratified, well-sorted, fine to very fine sand, has a maximum thickness of ~25 cm and extends over 600 m inland from the former coastline. The sand sheet is divided into lower and upper sub-layers by a mud drape. The lower sub-layer is characterized by current ripples indicative of a landward flow direction and shows inverse-graded bedding. The sand sheet is located immediately below the Kawagodaira Pumice. The deposition of the sand sheet caused an abrupt paleoenvironmental change along the coastline, in which the area evolved from a semi-open brackish coastal environment to a freshwater peaty marsh due to closure of a tidal inlet. Fujiwara (2013) noted that the tsunami was not an extremely large tsunami, as inferred from a reconstruction of the past coastal geomorphology.
Lake Hamana is connected to the Pacific Ocean via the Imakire tidal channel (Fig. 3). It is commonly accepted that the 1498 Meio tsunami breached the sand ridges that separated Lake Hamana from Enshu-nada and created the Imakire channel (Tsuji 1979; Shizuoka Prefecture 1996; Fujiwara et al. 2013). The wave heights of the Hoei and Ansei-Tokai tsunamis around Imakire are estimated to have been 3 and 5.6 m, respectively (Fig. 3). In this area, the predicted wave heights for a Level 2 tsunami are 13–15 m (Fig. 15).
Tsuji et al. (1998) collected sediment cores from Lake Hamana near Imakire (Fig. 15) and reported five event beds. The upper three beds were interpreted to represent the 1707 Hoei, 1605 Keicho, and 1498 Meio tsunamis. The depositional ages of the lower two beds were estimated to be 3354–3242 cal BP and 3873–3726 cal BP (Fig. 14) (calibrated by Komatsubara et al. 2006).
Figure 14 shows the distribution of prehistorical tsunami deposits in the coastal area of Shizuoka Prefecture. Given the existence of suitable geologic records for the time since 4000 years BP, this study discusses whether a Level 2 tsunami occurred during the past 4000 years.
Kitamura and Kobayashi (2014b) showed that the possible tsunami deposit T1 (3565–3486 cal BP) on the Oya lowland may correlate to tsunami deposit T-IV (3670–3540 to 3500–3360 cal BP) on the Shimizu Plain, whereas tsunami deposits corresponding to T-I, T-II, and T-III on the Shimizu Plain have not been identified on the Oya lowland. Given the uncertainty of the ages of tsunami deposits, Kitamura and Kobayashi (2014b) proposed that the above two event beds (T1 and T-IV) may be correlated to the tsunami deposit (3400–3300 cal BP) found in the horizon immediately below the Kawagodaira Pumice in the Rokken-gawa lowland (Fujiwara et al. 2013). Thus, Kitamura and Kobayashi (2014a) named this event the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami. The tsunami deposit at Lake Hamana, dated at 3354–3242 cal BP, may also have been caused by the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami. As noted above, the possible tsunami deposit T1 on the Oya lowland was linked to an earthquake that caused abrupt uplift of the lowland. Thus, the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami was caused by ruptures along megathrusts in the Suruga and/or Nankai troughs, and is the only prehistorical tsunami that may correspond to model cases 1, 6, and 8 of a Level 2 tsunami.
As noted above, the Tohoku-oki sandy tsunami deposit is distributed along the 900 km long coastal area between southwestern Hokkaido and the northern Boso Peninsula (Fig. 1; Table 1). The Jogan sandy tsunami deposit also occurs along at least 230-km of coast between the Sanriku coast and Fukushima Prefecture (Fig. 1; Table 1). In contrast, the length of the coastal area in Shizuoka Prefecture is only 200 km. Comparing the distribution of the Tohoku-oki and Jogan sandy tsunami deposits, it is expected that sandy tsunami deposits and tsunami boulders from a Level 2 tsunami would be distributed over coastal areas in Shizuoka Prefecture. Thus, if the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami was a Level 2 tsunami, sandy tsunami deposits and tsunami boulders should be present on the Yaizu Plain and the southern Izu Peninsula.
Beach ridges up to 5 m high protect the lowland from the open sea in both the Yaizu Plain and the coastal lowlands of the southern Izu Peninsula (Tsuchi and Takahashi 1972; Kitamura et al. 2013a; Kitamura and Kawate 2015). The foreshore, backshore, and beach ridge deposits in these areas consist mainly of sandy sediment. It is therefore likely that the source of the sandy tsunami deposits of the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami was the Yaizu Plain and the southern Izu Peninsula.
The Kawagodaira Pumice was found from back-marsh clayey deposits at sites 1 and 8 on the Yaizu Plain (Fig. 13). The clayey deposits below the pumice are 1.5 m thick at site 1 and 0.5 m thick at site 8. The absence of sandy tsunami deposits can be explained in two ways. First, the depositional ages of the clayey deposits may be younger than the occurrence of the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami. Second, sites 1 and 8 may be located outside the inundation area of the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami. As the Yaizu Plain has subsided during the past 3200 years (Kitamura et al. 2015a), the paleo-coastline may have been located offshore of the present-day shoreline, thus explaining why sandy tsunami deposits are absent from cored sediments from the Yaizu Plain.
In model cases 1, 6, and 8 (Figs. 4 and 5), the mean tsunami wave heights at Shimoda and Minami-izu are 15 m. The coastal area has experienced four co-seismic uplift events since 1256–950 BC; consequently, the total uplift has been at least 3.40 m (Kitamura et al. 2015b). In addition, the depositional succession represents a regressive phase (Kitamura and Kobayashi 2014a). These observations indicate that the paleo-coastline was located inland of the present-day shoreline. Thus, the areas from which sedimentary cores were obtained were more sensitive to tsunamis in the past than at the present day.
As noted above, the thickness of the 2011 tsunami deposit increases concomitantly with increasing flow depth, and the thickness reached its peak value when the flow depth was 4–5 m. At depths greater than 5 m, almost no deposition occurred. Instead, erosion of surface sediments exceeded deposition from the tsunami. Site 8 at Shimoda and site K1 at Minami-izu are located in a back marsh within the inundation area of a Level 2 tsunami (Fig. 6). The tsunami wave heights of the former and latter are predicted to be 5–10 and 10–20 m, respectively (Fig. 6). However, neither tsunami deposits nor severe erosional contacts were recognized in the back-marsh deposits at these two sites. In addition, tsunami deposits cannot be found from deposits below the Kawagodaira Pumice at two sites (site 5 at Shimoda and site 1 at Minami-izu) (Figs. 7 and 8). Moreover, although a tsunami boulder moved by the Ansei-Tokai tsunami occurs in the coastal lowland around Nabeta Bay, older tsunami boulders cannot be recognized in the area in which the tsunami wave height of a Level 2 tsunami is estimated to exceed 20 m (Fig. 6). In summary, the Rokken-gawa-Oya tsunami is not regarded as a Level 2 tsunami because the tsunami did not leave either a deposit or an erosional surface on the southern Izu Peninsula. This view is consistent with the interpretation of Fujiwara (2013) of the magnitude of paleo-tsunamis in the Rokken-gawa lowland.
The occurrence of the Rokken-gawa–Oya tsunami deposit on the Oya lowland may be explained in two ways. First, the paleo-coastline was located on the site of a present-day landside. According to Kitamura et al. (2013b), the paleo-coastline may be located at Site 7, which is 300 m from the present-day shoreline. Second, an increase in tsunami wave height was caused by submarine landslides associated with earthquake shaking, as occurred in the 1929 Grand Banks (Fine et al. 2005) and 2009 Suruga Bay (Baba et al. 2012) events. A magnitude 6.4 earthquake took place in Suruga Bay off the Yaizu plain in 2009 (Aoi et al. 2010). Baba et al. (2012) reported that this earthquake caused a submarine mass movement in the foreset slope, as inferred from the discovery of an escarpment (450 m wide and 10–15 m deep) located ~5 km off the coast. In addition, Baba et al. (2012) documented an increase in tsunami wave height caused by a submarine landslide, on the basis of a numerical simulation. The foreset slope of the fan delta of the Abe River off the Shizuoka plain (Nemoto et al. 1988) has a high potential for submarine landslides.
In summary, there is no geologic evidence of a Level 2 tsunami having occurred in the coastal area of Shizuoka Prefecture during the past 4000 years.
I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers, whose comments and suggestions improved the original manuscript. I also thank Stallard Scientific Editing (http://www.stallardediting.com) for improving the English in the manuscript. This study was funded by a Grant-in-Aid (26287126) awarded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
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