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Reconstructing hydrodynamic flow parameters of the 1700 tsunami at Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA.

TitleReconstructing hydrodynamic flow parameters of the 1700 tsunami at Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsWitter RC, Jaffe B, Zhang Y, Priest GR
Journal TitleNatural Hazards

Coastal communities in the western United States face risks of inundation by distant tsunamis that propagate across the Pacific Ocean as well as local tsunamis produced by great (Mw > 8) earthquakes on the Cascadia subduction zone. In 1964, the Mw 9.2 Alaska earthquake launched a Pacific-wide tsunami that flooded Cannon Beach, a small community (population 1640) in northwestern Oregon, causing over $230,000 in damages. However, since the giant 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 Chile tsunami and the recent 2011 Tohoku-Oki tsunami, renewed concern over potential impacts of a Cascadia tsunami on the western US has motivated closer examination of the local hazard. This study applies a simple sediment transport model to reconstruct the flow speed of the most recent Cascadia tsunami that flooded the region in 1700 using the thickness and grain size of sand layers deposited by the waves. Sedimentary properties of sand from the 1700 tsunami deposit provide model inputs. The sediment transport model calculates tsunami flow speed from the shear velocity required to suspend the quantity and grain size distribution of the observed sand layers. The model assumes a steady, spatially uniform tsunami flow and that sand settles out of suspension forming a deposit when the flow velocity decreases to zero. Using flow depths constrained by numerical tsunami simulations for Cannon Beach, the sediment transport model calculated flow speeds of 6.5–7.6 m/s for sites within 0.6 km of the beach and higher flow speeds (~8.8 m/s) for sites 0.8–1.2 km inland. Flow speed calculated for sites within 0.6 km of the beach compare well with maximum velocities estimated for the largest tsunami simulation. The higher flow speeds calculated for the two sites furthest landward contrast with much lower maximum velocities (<3.8 m/s) predicted by numerical simulations. Grain size distributions of sand layers from the most distal sites are inconsistent with deposition from sediment falling out of suspension. We infer that rapid deceleration in tsunami flow and convergences in sediment transport formed unusually thick deposits. Consequently, higher flow speeds calculated by the sediment model probably overestimate the actual wave speed at sites furthest inland.