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CATASTROPHIC FLANK COLLAPSE ON TA’U ISLAND AND SUBSEQUENT TSUNAMI: HAS THIS OCCURRED DURING THE LAST 170 YEARS?

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Author(s): Shaun Williams | Tim Davies | Jim Cole

Journal: Science of Tsunami Hazards
ISSN 8755-6839

Volume: 31;
Issue: 3;
Start page: 178;
Date: 2012;
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Keywords: Volcanic flank collapse | Ta’u Island volcano | tsunami

ABSTRACT
Ta’u, the easternmost inhabited island in the Samoan Islands archipelago, exhibits a series of down-faulted benches on its southern flank, believed to be the remnant of ~30 km3 catastrophic collapse. A historical map of Ta’u charted in 1839 during the United States Exploring Expedition, which did not show the benches, suggests that the event occurred less than 170 years ago. A collapse event of this magnitude would have generated a locally devastating tsunami, with possible impacts experienced at the regional level. However, no written or oral records of such an event exist. A number of key questions thus emerge, and formed the basis for this study. Did this event actually happen within the last 170 years, and if so, how and why could it have gone unnoticed? Or, is the event much older than the impression obtained from the literature? The catastrophic flank collapse was modeled using 100 m contour-resolution bathymetry data of the Ta’u region, coupled with rational assumptions made on the geometry of the failed mass. This enabled numerical landslide- tsunami simulation in the Cornell Multigrid Coupled Tsunami Model (COMCOT). The results indicate that if an event of this magnitude occurred in the last 170 years, it could not have gone unnoticed by local inhabitants. It thus seems likely that the initial survey conducted during the Exploring Expedition was inaccurate. Nevertheless, the well-preserved nature of the benches indicates collapse relatively recently and raises the possibility of future collapse.
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