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  • Iceland.Photo by Elisabeth Däcker
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  • Swedish Icebreaker Oden, Lomrog expedition. Photo by Martin Jakobsson
  • Swedish Icebreaker Oden outside Svalbard. Photo by Martin Jakobsson

Developing geochemical and mineralogical proxies for the correlation of paleotsunami layers by Linda Löwhagen

Date and time: Thursday, April 30 at 10.00
Place: Högbomsalen, Geohuset (link to the house plan)

The catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 raised urgent questions about the paleotsunami history in the region. Numerous studies have since been conducted to gain better understanding of the magnitude, frequency and impact of past tsunamis, especially around the coasts of the Indian Ocean.

Southwest Thailand directly faces the Sunda Arc trench where the earthquake that generated the Indian Ocean tsunami took place. The lack of historical documents and of suitable geological archives makes paleotsunami research a challenge in this area however. Phra Thong Island, on the Andaman Coast of southwest Thailand, with its marshy swales has proven an exception and is one of the few suitable locations for these types of studies. Apart from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami layer, three to four more distinct paleotsunami layers, separated by organic rich soil horizons have been previously identified and dated using radiocarbon and Optically Stimulated Luminescence techniques. Despite these efforts, several outstanding issues have to be resolved: (1) the correlation of tsunami/paleotsunami layers over larger distances remains ambiguous, particularly older layers; (2) age attributions for several of the paleotsunami layers differ at different locations; and (3) alterations of soil and sand layers by postdepositional processes are still poorly understood.

This thesis addresses these issues and aims to develop geochemical proxies that allow characterising each tsunami/paleotsunami layer in three different swales. As shown here, X-ray fluorescence elemental geochemistry, combined with loss-on-ignition analysis and mineralogical identification, is a promising tool for identifying paleotsunami layers. The specific geochemical signature of each sand layer can then be used for correlations over larger distances. This approach has the potential to provide a means for estimating past tsunami inundation distances, and thus their magnitude.

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