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High tsunami frequency as a result of combined strike-slip faulting and coastal landslides


Earthquakes on strike-slip faults can produce devastating natural hazards. However, because they consist predominantly of lateral motion, these faults are rarely associated with significant uplift or tsunami generation1,2,3,4. And although submarine slides can generate tsunami, only a few per cent of all tsunami are believed to be triggered in this way4,5,6. The 12 January Mw 7.0 Haiti earthquake exhibited primarily strike-slip motion but nevertheless generated a tsunami. Here we present data from a comprehensive field survey that covered the onshore and offshore area around the epicentre to document that modest uplift together with slope failure caused tsunamigenesis. Submarine landslides caused the most severe tsunami locally. Our analysis suggests that slide-generated tsunami occur an order-of-magnitude more frequently along the Gonave microplate than global estimates5,7,8,9,10,11,12 predict. Uplift was generated because of the earthquake’s location, where the Caribbean and Gonave microplates collide obliquely. The earthquake also caused liquefaction at several river deltas that prograde rapidly and are prone to failure. We conclude that coastal strike-slip fault systems such as the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault produce relief conducive to rapid sedimentation, erosion and slope failure, so that even modest predominantly strike-slip earthquakes can cause potentially catastrophic slide-generated tsunami—a risk that is underestimated at present.

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Figure 1: Tsunami reports across Haiti and Gonâve microplate.
Figure 2: Bathymetry from gridded multibeam and chirp surveys of Baie de Petit Goave and Baie de Grand Goave.
Figure 3: Detailed view of offshore faults.
Figure 4: Sediment deformation in Baie de Grand Goâve.
Figure 5: Tsunami wave models.


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This study was made possible by an NSF RAPID Response grant nos OCE-1028045, NSF EAR1024990, and a Jackson School of Geosciences Rapid Response Research Grant. We thank the crew of the R/V Endeavor, and S. De Bow for a successful cruise. This work is dedicated to J. B. Diebold.

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Authors and Affiliations



S.P.S.G., M-H.C., C.M. and M.S.S. planned and directed the offshore study. J.T., R.D., S.J.S., L.S., N.D., H.E.J., J.B.D., K.R-M., N.B., C.C.S. and M.B.D. carried out marine chirp, multibeam and side-scan data acquisition, processing and interpretation. R.W.B., P.M., C.S.P. and F.W.T. planned, acquired and analysed all of the land-based study. C.F. developed the earthquake–tsunami rupture model. M.J.H. wrote the manuscript, with all co-authors commenting and discussing results and implications.

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Correspondence to Matthew J. Hornbach.

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Hornbach, M., Braudy, N., Briggs, R. et al. High tsunami frequency as a result of combined strike-slip faulting and coastal landslides. Nature Geosci 3, 783–788 (2010).

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