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River tsunami? New Zealand’s largest historical tsunami


The first research of its kind to examine New Zealand’s largest historical tsunami has just been completed.

University of New South Wales student, Geordie Donaldson studied the 15 metre high wave, which was caused by a landslide into the Waikari River. The landslide was triggered by shaking from the devastating 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. The tsunami destroyed Waikari Station’s homestead and sheep shed.

This tsunami was unique in that it occurred in a river, unlike most which occur at sea.

Geordie used LiDAR data, field observations and historic documents to categorise and estimate the volume of the landslide, which was found to be a rotational debris slide with a volume in excess of 1.5 million m3

The stratigraphy was recorded throughout the site, and cores and grab samples collected for further analysis. This was used in conjunction with LiDAR data and historical documents to establish a detailed record of both the landslide and the resulting tsunami

Sedimentological, geochemical, chronological and microfossil analysis was carried out on cores taken from around the site and uncovered two gravel layers. One of these layers has been identified as being deposited from the 1931 landslide event. The second gravel layer is thought to have been deposited by an earlier tsunami as a result of the 1863 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.


Read more here: 1931 Waikari River Tsunami: New Zealand’s largest historical tsunami


LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth.

Stratigraphy is a branch of geology which studies rock layers.

Sedimentology encompasses the study of modern sediments such as sand, silt, and clay, and the processes that result in their formation.

Geochemistry is the science that uses the tools and principles of chemistry to explain the mechanisms behind major geological systems such as the Earth's crust and its oceans.

A microfossil is a fossil or fossil fragment that can only be seen with a microscope.

11 November 2021

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