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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Ed Garrett

Cisternas, M., Garrett, E., Wesson, R., Dura, T. & Ely, L. Unusual geologic evidence of coeval seismic shaking and tsunamis shows variability in earthquake size and recurrence in the area of the giant 1960 Chile earthquake. Marine Geology. 2017;385:101-113.

Author(s) from Durham


An uncommon coastal sedimentary record combines evidence for seismic shaking and coincident tsunami inundation since AD 1000 in the region of the largest earthquake recorded instrumentally: the giant 1960 southern Chile earthquake (Mw 9.5). The record reveals significant variability in the size and recurrence of megathrust earthquakes and ensuing tsunamis along this part of the Nazca-South American plate boundary. A 500-m long coastal outcrop on Isla Chiloé, midway along the 1960 rupture, provides continuous exposure of soil horizons buried locally by debris-flow diamicts and extensively by tsunami sand sheets. The diamicts flattened plants that yield geologically precise ages to correlate with well-dated evidence elsewhere. The 1960 event was preceded by three earthquakes that probably resembled it in their effects, in AD 898–1128, 1300–1398 and 1575, and by five relatively smaller intervening earthquakes. Earthquakes and tsunamis recurred exceptionally often between AD 1300 and 1575. Their average recurrence interval of 85 years only slightly exceeds the time already elapsed since 1960. This inference is of serious concern because no earthquake has been anticipated in the region so soon after the 1960 event, and current plate locking suggests that some segments of the boundary are already capable of producing large earthquakes. This long-term earthquake and tsunami history of one of the world's most seismically active subduction zones provides an example of variable rupture mode, in which earthquake size and recurrence interval vary from one earthquake to the next.