Distinguishing tsunami and storm deposits: An example from Martinhal, SW Portugal

S. Kortekaas, A. G. Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

332 Citations (Scopus)


Geological identification of past tsunamis is important for risk assessment studies, especially in areas where the historical record is limited or absent. The main problem when using the geological evidence is to distinguish between tsunami and storm deposits. Both are high-energy events that may leave marine traces in coastal stratigraphic sequences. At Martinhal, SW Portugal both storm surge and tsunami deposits are present at the same site within a single stratigraphic sequence, which makes it suitable to study the differences between them, excluding variations caused by local factors.

The tsunami associated with the Lisbon earthquake of November 1st 1755 AD, had a major impact on the geomorphology and sedimentology of Martinhal. It breached the barrier and laid down an extensive sheet of sand, as described in eyewitness reports. Besides the tsunami deposit the stratigraphy of Martinhal also displays evidence for storm surges that have breached and overtopped the barrier, flooding the lowland and leaving sand layers. Both marine-derived flood deposits show similar grain size characteristics and distinctive marine foraminifera. The most important differences are the rip-up clasts and boulders exclusively found in the tsunami deposit and the landward extent of the tsunami deposit that everywhere exceeds that of the storm deposits. Identification of both depositional units was only possible using a collection of different data and extensive stratigraphical information from cores as well as trenches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-221
Number of pages14
JournalSedimentary Geology
Issue number3-4
Early online date15 Feb 2007
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2007

Bibliographical note

One of the first stratigraphical descriptions of palaeo-storm deposits and palae-tsunami sediments within the same sediment exposure.


  • tsunami
  • storm
  • tsunami deposit
  • coastal flooding
  • Portugal
  • 1993 southwest Hokkaido
  • sedimentary differences
  • Lisbon earthquake
  • Northern Japan
  • coastal
  • island


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