Understanding the history of extreme wave events in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia from large carbonate boulders on Makemo Atoll, with implications for future threats in the central South Pacific

TitleUnderstanding the history of extreme wave events in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia from large carbonate boulders on Makemo Atoll, with implications for future threats in the central South Pacific
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsLau AAY, Terry JP, Ziegler AD, Switzer AD, Lee Y, Etienne S
JournalMarine Geology
Volume380
Pagination174-190
Date Published10/2016
Abstract

Numerous large carbonate boulders up to 164 tonnes in mass were investigated on the reef flat and beaches of Makemo Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia to reveal the past occurrence and to anticipate the future potential threat of extreme wave events, possibly generated by tropical cyclones and tsunamis. The modern reef edge and emerged mid-Holocene coastal landforms were identified as sources of boulders mobilized during extreme wave events in the past. The minimum flow velocities produced by extreme wave events were estimated to exceed 5.4-15.7 m/s at the reef edge on different parts of the atoll. Comparison of uranium-thorium ages of boulder coral fabric with written historical records indicates that two large boulders (77 and 68 tonnes) were possibly emplaced on the reef flat by a powerful cyclone in February 1878. Although most boulder dates are older than the earliest historical cyclone and tsunami records in French Polynesia, their ages concur with the following: (a) periods of "storminess" (i.e. increased cyclone activity compared to today) in the central South Pacific over the last millennium; and (b) periods of high sea-surface temperature (SST) at the Great Barrier Reef, possibly associated with higher-than-normal SSTs Pacific-wide that facilitated the generation of cyclones affecting the central South Pacific Ocean. None of the boulders on Makemo were dated younger than CE1900, implying that the last century has not experienced extreme waves of similar magnitude in the past. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that waves of comparable magnitudes to those that have transported large boulders on Makemo may recur in the Tuamotus and threaten island coasts across the central South Pacific in the future.

DOI10.1016/j.margeo.2016.04.018