National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2008

Sediment grains moved by passing tsunami waves: Tsunami deposits in deep water

Weiss, R.

Mar. Geol., 250(3–4), 251–257, doi: 10.1016/j.margeo.2008.01.018 (2008)

Tsunamis propagating in the open ocean have associated horizontal particle velocities that do not change with depth — yet the limiting water depth where a tsunami of given characteristics will initiate sediment motion remains unknown. Based upon linear wave theory and a parametrization of the Shields curve, equations are derived and solved, using an iterative scheme, to address the topic of grain movement by tsunami waves as a function of water depth and wave amplitude. The focus is on waves in deep water where tsunami waves behave linearly and on non-cohesive sediment grains. Furthermore, the question is addressed of which grain sizes are picked up on a sloping beach as the wave shoals. According to the results, even the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 was incapable of moving fine sand in water deeper than 985 m in the Bay of Bengal and 335 m in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The results suggest that tectonic tsunamis of size equal to or smaller than the Boxing Day tsunami cannot initiate motion of deep-water cohesionless sediments that can be correlated on an oceanic basin-wide scale.

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