National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2008

Sedimentology of the December 26, 2004, Sumatra Tsunami deposits in eastern India (Tamil Nadu) and Kenya

Bahlburg, H., and R. Weiss

Int. J. Earth Sci., 96(6), 1195–1209, doi: 10.1007/s00531-006-0148-9 (2007)

The December 26, 2004 Sumatra tsunami caused severe damage at the coasts of the Indian ocean. We report results of a sedimentological study of tsunami run-up parameters and the sediments laid down by the tsunami at the coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and between Malindi and Lamu, Kenya. In India, evidence of three tsunami waves is preserved on the beaches in the form of characteristic debris accumulations. We measured the maximum run-up distance at 580 m and the maximum run-up height at 4.85 m. Flow depth over land was at least 3.5 m. The tsunami deposited an up to 30 cm thick blanket of moderately well to well-sorted coarse and medium sand that overlies older beach deposits or soil with an erosional unconformity. The sand sheet thins inland without a decrease of grain-size. The deposits consist frequently of three layers. The lower one may be cross-bedded with foresets dipping landward and indicating deposition during run-up. The overlying two sand layers are graded or parallel-laminated without indicators of current directions. Thus, it remains undecided whether they formed during run-up or return flow. Thin dark laminae rich in heavy minerals frequently mark the contacts between successive layers. Benthic foraminifera indicate an entrainment of sediment by the tsunami from water depths less than ca. 30 m water depth. On the Indian shelf these depths are present at distances of up to 5 km from the coast. In Kenya only one wave is recorded, which attained a run-up height of 3 m at a run-up distance of ca. 35 m from the tidal water line at the time of the tsunami impact. Only one layer of fine sand was deposited by the tsunami. It consists predominantly of heavy minerals supplied to the sea by a nearby river. The sand layer thins landward with a minor decrease in grain-size. Benthic foraminifera indicate an entrainment of sediment by the tsunami from water depths less than ca. 30 m water depth, reaching down potentially to ca. 80 m. The presence of only one tsunami-related sediment layer in Kenya, but three in India, reflects the impact of only one wave at the coast of Kenya, as opposed to several in India. Grain-size distributions in the Indian and Kenyan deposits are mostly normal to slightly positively skewed and indicate that the detritus was entrained by the tsunami from well sorted pre-tsunami deposits in nearshore, swash zone and beach environments.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |