Rock deposits studied at Cabo Cope reveal that the Mediterranean suffered tsunamis and could happen again

Rock deposits studied at Cabo Cope reveal that the Mediterranean suffered tsunamis and could happen again
The remains studied were washed away by strong waves caused by a tidal wave approximately 800 to 1,400 years ago.

The Mediterranean suffered catastrophic tsunamis in the past and they could happen again today, as a research team with Spanish participation has found on the basis of rock deposits studied at Cabo Cope, on the coast of the Region of Murcia.

Based on deposits found at Cabo Cope, in the municipality of Águilas (Murcia), the researchers recorded an event dating from approximately 800 to 1,400 years ago that caused large accumulations of blocks in this region of the Murcia coast, according to sources from the Scientific News and Information Service (SINC) consulted by Europa Press.

“We applied the methodology we had developed to see if (these rock accumulations) could be due to large storms or tsunamis, as the area of Murcia can have tectonic earthquake activity,” said Javier Lario, professor of External Geodynamics at the Faculty of Sciences of the UNED and first author of the study, whose team has found that “they could be the result of a tsunami”.

Although the waves of a big storm can be bigger than those of a tsunami, they would not have the capacity to drag these blocks four metres above sea level, which reach 17.7 tonnes. In contrast, the waves of a tsunami can carry about 18 tonnes of water above sea level.

The authors of the study mainly try to distinguish between these two types of phenomena. “It is interesting to differentiate between them because with climate change we are seeing an increase in large storms and even hurricanes,” says Lario.

In the presentation of the work, which is also signed by researchers from the University of the West of England (UK), Chris Spencer, and from the University of Alcalá de Henares, Teresa Bardají, cities such as Huelva and Cádiz are mentioned, as they have already begun to create evacuation plans.

The first author points out that it would be necessary to implement this type of plan in the coastal areas of the southern Mediterranean in order to educate the population and raise awareness.

“We are talking about 70% of the population being on the coasts,” according to Lario, who added that, if it were to hit in summer, “the floating population in coastal areas is much higher than in winter”. “Clearly, a tsunami now would have a very big impact,” he warned.

In addition, human-induced coastal erosion and degradation could greatly affect the severity of a potential tsunami. “The processes of sea level rise or erosion of the beach and the natural protection of the coastline make it more vulnerable in the event of a tsunami. If we have lost sand or coastal area and the water can penetrate further inland, when a tsunami comes, the effect will be worse,” the geologist warned.

Thanks to these records, it is possible to establish recurrence periods that allow the authorities to be alerted to possible phenomena, like the historic Lisbon tsunami, which devastated the Andalusian coast in 1755 and left more than 1,000 dead in its wake.

The Ministry of the Interior, together with the National Geographic Institute and the Directorate General of Civil Protection, have developed a State Tsunami Plan, in which they identify the risks of tsunami flooding that could occur in the national territory.

The study, published in the ‘Journal of Iberian Geology’, is entitled ‘Presence of boulders associated with an extreme wave event in the western Mediterranean (Cape Cope, Murcia, Spain): possible evidence of a tsunami” Journal of Iberian Geology (2023)’.

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