Letter

Nature 455, 1232-1234 (30 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07374; Received 7 March 2008; Accepted 27 August 2008

A 1,000-year sediment record of tsunami recurrence in northern Sumatra

Katrin Monecke1,8, Willi Finger2, David Klarer3, Widjo Kongko4,8, Brian G. McAdoo5, Andrew L. Moore6 & Sam U. Sudrajat7

  1. Department of Geology, Kent State University, McGilvrey Hall, Kent, Ohio 44242, USA
  2. Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA), Gerechtigkeitsgasse 20, 8002 Zürich, Switzerland
  3. Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve, 2514 Cleveland Road East, Huron, Ohio 44839, USA
  4. Badan Pengkajan dan Penerapan Teknologi (BPPT), Jalan Grafika, Yogjakarta, 55281, Indonesia
  5. Department of Earth Sciences and Geography, Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie, New York 12604, USA
  6. Department of Geosciences, Earlham College, 801 National Road West, Richmond, Indiana 47374, USA
  7. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Jalan Nasional, Meulaboh, NAD, Indonesia
  8. Present addresses: Department of Geology and Planetary Science, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, 450 Schoolhouse Road, Johnstown, Pennsylvania 15904, USA (K.M.); Franzius-Institute for Hydraulic, Waterways and Coastal Engineering, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Nienburger Strasse 4, 30167 Hannover, Germany (W.K.).

Correspondence to: Katrin Monecke1,8 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to K.M. (Email: monecke@pitt.edu).

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004 reached maximum wave heights of 35 m in Aceh, the northernmost province of Sumatra1, 2. Both the tsunami and the associated Sumatra–Andaman earthquake were unprecedented in Acehnese history3, 4. Here we use sand sheets to extend tsunami history 1,000 years into Aceh's past. The 2004 tsunami deposited a sand sheet up to 1.8 km inland on a marshy beach ridge plain. Sediment cores from these coastal marshes revealed two older extensive sand sheets with similar sediment characteristics. These sheets, deposited soon after ad 1290–1400 and ad 780–990, probably resulted from earlier tsunamis. An additional sand sheet of limited extent might correlate with a documented smaller tsunami of ad 1907. These findings, a first step towards a palaeotsunami record for northern Sumatra, suggest that damage-causing tsunamis in Aceh recur infrequently enough for entire human lifetimes to typically elapse between them. Such recurrence adds to the challenge of preparing communities along the northern Indian Ocean shorelines for future tsunamis.

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