Risk of tsunamis in Mediterranean Sea has been overstated

October 11, 2017
The boulders on the Tipaza coast of Algeria that would have been deposited in a high-energy event. Credit: C. Morhange

A review of geological evidence for tsunamis during the past 4500 years in the Mediterranean Sea has revealed that as many as 90 per cent of these inundation events may have been misinterpreted by scientists and were due to storm activity instead.

"Understanding the true incidence of devastating tsunamis is vital for assessing the current risk and introducing appropriate protective strategies for densely populated coastal cities," says study senior author and UNSW Sydney scientist Honorary Professor James Goff.

"Yet discriminating between tsunamis and storm deposits is one of the most challenging and hotly debated areas of coastal geoscience.

"Following intense media coverage of events like the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there has been a marked increase in geological research reporting evidence for past tsunamis in the Mediterranean.

"Our provocative and timely study suggests that up to 90 per cent of the claims for tsunamis having occurred in the Mediterranean in the past 4500 years need to be reconsidered. The risk from this hazard could have been significantly overstated in this region," Professor Goff says.

The study, by an international team of scientists from UNSW, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and the universities of Toulouse, Aix-Marseille and Exeter, is published in the journal Science Advances.

About 130 million people live around the Mediterranean Sea and it is one of the world's leading tourist destinations, with more than 230 million visitors a year.

Geological evidence for past tsunamis includes the presence of large boulders on rocky coastlines, coarse sedimentary deposits in coastal lagoons, and high-energy marine deposits a long way inland.

The team studied 135 past events in eight Mediterranean countries that had been identified in the scientific literature as tsunamis on the basis of geological evidence, and which had been dated using a variety of scientific techniques.

"We compared these events with records for the same period," says study first author Dr Nick Marriner of the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

"We found the dates for the tsunamis peaked every 1500 years - at about 200, 1600 and 3100 years ago. This matched well with 1500-year climate cycles of cooling in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic and heightened .

"This suggests most of the is related to periods of severe storms, rather than tsunamis."

The Mediterranean is famous for one of the most catastrophic tsunamis of all time - the caused by the Santorini eruption almost 3500 years ago that devastated the civilisation of Crete, leading to the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.

Explore further: Sea cave preserves 5,000-year snapshot of tsunamis

More information: N. Marriner el al., "Tsunamis in the geological record: Making waves with a cautionary tale from the Mediterranean," Science Advances (2017). advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/10/e1700485

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1 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2017
Plato disagreed ...

"O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt ..."

1 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2017

"... Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals; at such times those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing saviour, delivers and preserves us. When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below; for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient."

- Benjamin Jowett's translation of Plato's Timaeus
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 12, 2017
You failed to mention that that these are the words of Plato writing in the guise of Critias, who is in turn citing the words of the Egyptian priest in Sais as related to Solon, a Greek politician who died 130 years before Plato was born. And the Egyptians would not have had a good idea of what caused the annual flood in the Nile as the source of the flood water was thousands of miles away. No wonder the Egyptians were confused and thought the water came from below. Shame on you for pretending this dried turd of an anecdote has any relevance.
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 12, 2017
Oh dear... C_ R, if I'm understanding you correctly? You are opinionating that we, today, should be accepting a series of mediocre translations and incompetent interpretations as gospel truth?

And that all the knowledge and empirical evidence accumulated since then be disavowed as conflicting with your tediously infinitesimal, repetitiously stuporstitious belief system?

Oh gosh, thanks! I can finally give all that hardwork of thinking for myself, a rest.

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