Article abstract

Nature Geoscience 1, 268 - 276 (2008)
Published online: 9 March 2008 | doi:10.1038/ngeo151

Subject Categories: Geomorphology | Structural geology, tectonics and geodynamics

Eastern Mediterranean tectonics and tsunami hazard inferred from the AD 365 earthquake

B. Shaw1, N. N. Ambraseys2,3, P. C. England4, M. A. Floyd4, G. J. Gorman5, T. F. G. Higham6, J. A. Jackson1, J.-M. Nocquet7, C. C. Pain5 & M. D. Piggott5

Historical accounts describe an earthquake and tsunami on 21 July AD 365 that destroyed cities and drowned thousands of people in coastal regions from the Nile Delta to modern-day Dubrovnik. The location and tectonic setting of this earthquake have been uncertain until now. Here, we present evidence from radiocarbon data and field observations that western Crete was lifted above sea level, by up to 10 m, synchronously with the AD 365 earthquake. The distribution of uplift, combined with observations of present-day seismicity, suggest that this earthquake occurred not on the subduction interface beneath Crete, but on a fault dipping at about 30° within the overriding plate. Calculations of tsunami propagation show that the uplift of the sea floor associated with such an earthquake would have generated a damaging tsunami through much of the eastern Mediterranean. Measurement of the present rate of crustal shortening near Crete yields an estimate of approx5,000 yr for the repeat time of tsunamigenic events on this single fault in western Crete, but if the same process takes place along the entire Hellenic subduction zone, such events may occur approximately once every 800 yr.

  1. Bullard Laboratories, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0EZ, UK
  2. Department of Civil Engineering, Imperial College, London SW7 2AZ, UK
  3. The Academy of Athens, Athens 10679, Greece
  4. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PR, UK
  5. Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College, London SW7 2AZ, UK
  6. Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
  7. CNRS-Géosciences Azur, University of Nice, 250, Rue Albert Einstein, Valbonne, 06560, France

Correspondence to: B. Shaw1 e-mail:


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