Challenges of anticipating the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami using coastal geology

Authors

  • Yuki Sawai,

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    1. Geological Survey of Japan, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, Japan
    • Corresponding author: Y. Sawai, Geological Survey of Japan, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, AIST Tsukuba Central 7, 1-1-1 Higashi, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8567, Japan. (yuki.sawai@aist.go.jp)

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  • Yuichi Namegaya,

    1. Geological Survey of Japan, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, Japan
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  • Yukinobu Okamura,

    1. Geological Survey of Japan, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, Japan
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  • Kenji Satake,

    1. Geological Survey of Japan, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, Japan
    2. Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
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  • Masanobu Shishikura

    1. Geological Survey of Japan, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, Japan
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Abstract

[1] Can the magnitude of a giant earthquake be estimated from paleoseismological data alone? Attempts to estimate the size of the Jogan earthquake of AD 869, whose tsunami affected much of the same coast as the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, offers an excellent opportunity to address this question, which is fundamental to assessing earthquake and tsunami hazards at subduction zones. Between 2004 and 2010, examining stratigraphy at 399 locations beneath paddy fields along 180 km of coast mainly south of Sendai, we learned that a tsunami deposit associated with the AD 869 Jogan earthquake had run inland at least 1.5 km across multiple coastal lowlands, and that one of the lowlands had subsided during the Jogan earthquake and an earlier earthquake as well. Radiocarbon ages just below/above sand deposits left by the pre-Jogan tsunamis suggested recurrence intervals in the range of 500 to 800 years. Modeling inundation and subsidence, we estimated size of the Jogan earthquake as moment magnitude 8.4 or larger and a fault rupture area 200 km long. We did not consider a longer rupture, like the one in 2011, because coastal landform and absence of a volcanic ash layer make any Jogan layer difficult to identify along the Sanriku coast. Still, Sendai tsunami geology might have reduced casualties by improving evacuation maps and informing public-awareness campaigns.

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