Coastal stratigraphies of eastern Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles): New insights into the palaeo-tsunami history of the southern Caribbean


A sediment record of three alluvial sites along the east- and northeast-oriented shore of Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles) provides evidence for the recurrence of several extraordinary wave impacts during the Holocene. The interpretation of onshore high-energy wave deposits is controversially discussed in recent sedimentary research. However, it represents a powerful tool to evaluate the hazard of tsunami and severe storms where historical documentation is short and/or fragmentary. A facies model was established based on sedimentary and geochemical characteristics as well as the assemblage and state of preservation of shells and shell fragments. Radiocarbon data and the comparison of the facies model with both recent local hurricane deposits and global “tsunami signature types” point to the occurrence of three major wave events around 3300, 2000–1700 and shortly before 500 BP. Since (i) the stratigraphically correlated sand layers fulfill several sedimentary characteristics commonly associated with tsunamis and (ii) modern strong hurricanes left only little or even no sediment in the study areas, they were interpreted as tsunamigenic. However, surges largely exceeding the energy of those accompanying modern hurricanes in the southern Caribbean cannot entirely be ruled out. The results are partially consistent with existing chronologies for Holocene extreme wave events deduced from supralittoral coarse-clast deposits on Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao as well as overwash sediments from Cayo Sal, Venezuela. 

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