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Keywords:

  • High-resolution bathymetry;
  • lake sediments;
  • natural hazards;
  • subaqueous mass movements;
  • tsunamis

Abstract

Historical reports from the 17th Century document two destructive tsunamis with run-ups exceeding 5 m, affecting proximal basins of Lake Lucerne (Switzerland). One event in ad 1601 is coeval with a strong nearby earthquake (MW ca 5·9) which caused extensive slope failures in many parts of the lake. The second event in ad 1687 is associated with an apparently spontaneous partial collapse of the Muota river delta. This study combines high-resolution bathymetry, reflection seismic and lithological data to document the sedimentary and morphological signatures of the two subaqueous mass movements that probably generated the observed tsunamis. Such mass movements are significant as a common sedimentation process and as a natural hazard in fjord-type lakes and similar environments. The deposits, covering large parts of the basins with thicknesses reaching >10 m, consist of two subunits: A lower ‘massflow deposit’ contains variably deformed sediments from the source areas. Its emplacement affected pre-existing sediments, incorporating thin sediment slices into the deposit and increasing its volume. Deep-reaching deformation near basin margins is expressed as bulges on the lake floor. An overlying ‘megaturbidite’, featuring a graded, sandy base and a thick homogeneous muddy part, was deposited from suspended particles. The source area for the ad 1601 event, gently dipping lateral slopes with an unconsolidated hemipelagic sediment cover, hosts a pronounced slide scar with sharp escarpments and sliding surfaces. The source area for the ad 1687 event on an active delta slope has been overprinted by continued sedimentation and does not show an unambiguous scar. The case studies are exemplary for end-member types of source areas (lateral versus delta slopes) and trigger mechanisms (seismic versus aseismic); they show that morphological mapping and reconstructions of past events are key components of a hazard assessment for mass movement-generated tsunamis.