Tsunami threat in the Indian Ocean from a future megathrust earthquake west of Sumatra

Copyright © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Tsunami threat in the Indian Ocean from a future megathrust earthquake west of Sumatra

John McCloskey a, Andrea Antonioli a, Alessio Piatanesi b, Kerry Sieh c, Sandy Steacy a, Suleyman Nalbant a, Massimo Cocco b, Carlo Giunchi b, JianDong Huang a and Paul Dunlop a

a Geophysics Research Group, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, BT52 1SA, Northern Ireland

b Seismology and Tectonophysics Department, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Via di Vigna Murata 605, 00143-Rome, Italy

cTectonics Observatory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States

Received 2 July 2007; revised 20 September 2007; accepted 20 September 2007. Edited by: C.P. Jaupart. Available online 5 October 2007.


Several independent indicators imply a high probability of a great (M > 8) earthquake rupture of the subduction megathrust under the Mentawai Islands of West Sumatra. The human consequences of such an event depend crucially on its tsunamigenic potential, which in turn depends on unpredictable details of slip distribution on the megathrust and how resulting seafloor movements and the propagating tsunami waves interact with bathymetry. Here we address the forward problem by modelling about 1000 possible complex earthquake ruptures and calculating the seafloor displacements and tsunami wave height distributions that would result from the most likely 100 or so, as judged by reference to paleogeodetic data. Additionally we carry out a systematic study of the importance of the location of maximum slip with respect to the morphology of the fore-arc complex. Our results indicate a generally smaller regional tsunami hazard than was realised in Aceh during the December 2004 event, though more than 20% of simulations result in tsunami wave heights of more than 5 m for the southern Sumatran cities of Padang and Bengkulu. The extreme events in these simulations produce results which are consistent with recent deterministic studies. The study confirms the sensitivity of predicted wave heights to the distribution of slip even for events with similar moment and reproduces Plafker’s rule of thumb. Additionally we show that the maximum wave height observed at a single location scales with the magnitude though data for all magnitudes exhibit extreme variability. Finally, we show that for any coastal location in the near field of the earthquake, despite the complexity of the earthquake rupture simulations and the large range of magnitudes modelled, the timing of inundation is constant to first order and the maximum height of the modelled waves is directly proportional to the vertical coseismic displacement experienced at that point. These results may assist in developing tsunami preparedness strategies around the Indian Ocean and in particular along the coasts of western Sumatra.

Keywords: tsunami; Sumatra; megathrust; earthquake; hazard

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