Wei Yong

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Geomorphic and stratigraphic evidence for an unusual tsunami or storm a few centuries ago at Anegada, British Virgin Islands

2010-10-26 , Atwater, Brian F. , ten Brink, Uri S. , Buckley, Mark , Halley, Robert S. , Jaffe, Bruce E. , Lopez-Venegas, Alberto M. , Reinhardt, Eduard G. , Tuttle, Maritia P. , Watt, Steve , Wei, Yong

Waters from the Atlantic Ocean washed southward across parts of Anegada, east-northeast of Puerto Rico, during a singular event a few centuries ago. The overwash, after crossing a fringing coral reef and 1.5 km of shallow subtidal flats, cut dozens of breaches through sandy beach ridges, deposited a sheet of sand and shell capped with lime mud, and created inland fields of cobbles and boulders. Most of the breaches extend tens to hundreds of meters perpendicular to a 2-km stretch of Anegada’s windward shore. Remnants of the breached ridges stand 3 m above modern sea level, and ridges seaward of the breaches rise 2.2–3.0 m high. The overwash probably exceeded those heights when cutting the breaches by overtopping and incision of the beach ridges. Much of the sand-and-shell sheet contains pink bioclastic sand that resembles, in grain size and composition, the sand of the breached ridges. This sand extends as much as 1.5 km to the south of the breached ridges. It tapers southward from a maximum thickness of 40 cm, decreases in estimated mean grain size from medium sand to very fine sand, and contains mud laminae in the south. The sand-and-shell sheet also contains mollusks—cerithid gastropods and the bivalve Anomalocardia—and angular limestone granules and pebbles. The mollusk shells and the lime-mud cap were probably derived from a marine pond that occupied much of Anegada’s interior at the time of overwash. The boulders and cobbles, nearly all composed of limestone, form fields that extend many tens of meters generally southward from limestone outcrops as much as 0.8 km from the nearest shore. Soon after the inferred overwash, the marine pond was replaced by hypersaline ponds that produce microbial mats and evaporite crusts. This environmental change, which has yet to be reversed, required restriction of a former inlet or inlets, the location of which was probably on the island’s south (lee) side. The inferred overwash may have caused restriction directly by washing sand into former inlets, or indirectly by reducing the tidal prism or supplying sand to post-overwash currents and waves. The overwash happened after A.D. 1650 if coeval with radiocarbon-dated leaves in the mud cap, and it probably happened before human settlement in the last decades of the 1700s. A prior overwash event is implied by an inland set of breaches. Hypothetically, the overwash in 1650–1800 resulted from the Antilles tsunami of 1690, the transatlantic Lisbon tsunami of 1755, a local tsunami not previously documented, or a storm whose effects exceeded those of Hurricane Donna, which was probably at category 3 as its eye passed 15 km to Anegada’s south in 1960.

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Extreme waves in the British Virgin Islands during the last centuries before 1500 CE

2017-03-17 , Atwater, Brian F. , ten Brink, Uri S. , Cescon, Anna Lisa , Feuillet, Nathalie , Fuentes, Zamara , Halley, Robert S. , Nuñez, Carlos , Reinhardt, Eduard G. , Roger, Jean H. , Sawai, Yuki , Spiske, Michaela , Tuttle, Maritia P. , Wei, Yong , Weil-Accardo, Jennifer

Extraordinary marine inundation scattered clasts southward on the island of Anegada, 120 km south of the Puerto Rico Trench, sometime between 1200 and 1480 calibrated years (cal yr) CE. Many of these clasts were likely derived from a fringing reef and from the sandy flat that separates the reef from the island’s north shore. The scattered clasts include no fewer than 200 coral boulders, mapped herein for the first time and mainly found hundreds of meters inland. Many of these are complete colonies of the brain coral Diploria strigosa. Other coral species represented include Orbicella (formerly Montastraea) annu­laris, Porites astreoides, and Acropora palmata. Associated bioclastic carbonate sand locally contains articulated cobble-size valves of the lucine Codakia orbicularis and entire conch shells of Strombus gigas, mollusks that still inhabit the sandy shallows between the island’s north shore and a fringing reef beyond. italicmbricated limestone slabs are clustered near some of the coral boulders. In addition, fields of scattered limestone boulders and cobbles near sea level extend mainly southward from limestone sources as much as 1 km inland. Radiocarbon ages have been obtained from 27 coral clasts, 8 lucine valves, and 3 conch shells. All these additional ages predate 1500 cal yr CE, all but 2 are in the range 1000–1500 cal yr CE, and 16 of 22 brain coral ages cluster in the range 1200–1480 cal yr CE. The event marked by these coral and mollusk clasts likely occurred in the last centuries before Columbus (before 1492 CE). The pre-Columbian deposits surpass Anegada’s previously reported evidence for extreme waves in post-Columbian time. The coarsest of the modern storm deposits consist of coral rubble that lines the north shore and sandy fans on the south shore; neither of these storm deposits extends more than 50 m inland. More extensive overwash, perhaps by the 1755 Lisbon tsunami, is marked primarily by a sheet of sand and shells found mainly below sea level beneath the floors of modern salt ponds. This sheet extends more than 1 km southward from the north shore and dates to the interval 1650–1800 cal yr CE. Unlike the pre-Columbian deposits, it lacks coarse clasts from the reef or reef flat; its shell assemblage is instead dominated by cerithid gastropods that were merely stirred up from a marine pond in the island’s interior. In their inland extent and clustered pre-Columbian ages, the coral clasts and associated deposits suggest extreme waves unrivaled in recent millennia at Anegada. Bioclastic sand coats limestone 4 m above sea level in areas 0.7 and 1.3 km from the north shore. A coral boulder of nearly 1 m3 is 3 km from the north shore by way of an unvegetated path near sea level. As currently understood, the extreme flooding evidenced by these and other clasts represents either an extraordinary storm or a tsunami of nearby origin. The storm would need to have produced tsunami-like bores similar to those of 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Normal faults and a thrust fault provide nearby tsunami sources along the eastern Puerto Rico Trench.