A systematic review of geological evidence for Holocene earthquakes and tsunamis along the Nankai-Suruga Trough, Japan

Ed Garrett*, Osamu Fujiwara, Philip Garrett, Vanessa M.A. Heyvaert, Masanobu Shishikura, Yusuke Yokoyama, Aurélia Hubert-Ferrari, Helmut Brückner, Atsunori Nakamura, Marc De Batist

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Nankai-Suruga Trough, the subduction zone that lies immediately south of Japan's densely populated southern coastline, generates devastating great earthquakes (magnitude > 8) characterised by intense shaking, crustal deformation and tsunami generation. Forecasting the hazards associated with future earthquakes along this > 700 km long fault requires a comprehensive understanding of past fault behaviour. While the region benefits from a long and detailed historical record, palaeoseismology has the potential to provide a longer-term perspective and additional crucial insights. In this paper, we summarise the current state of knowledge regarding geological evidence for past earthquakes and tsunamis along the Nankai-Suruga Trough. Incorporating literature originally published in both Japanese and English and enhancing available results with new age modelling approaches, we summarise and critically evaluate evidence from a wide variety of sources. Palaeoseismic evidence includes uplifted marine terraces and biota, marine and lacustrine turbidites, liquefaction features, subsided marshes and tsunami deposits in coastal lakes and lowlands. While 75 publications describe proposed evidence from > 70 sites, only a limited number provide compelling, well-dated evidence. The best available records enable us to map the most likely rupture zones of twelve earthquakes that occurred during the historical period. This spatiotemporal compilation suggests that the 1707 CE earthquake ruptured almost the full length of the subduction zone and that earthquakes in 1361 CE and 684 CE may have been predecessors of similar magnitude. Intervening earthquakes were of lesser magnitude, highlighting the variability in rupture mode that characterises the Nankai-Suruga Trough. Intervals between ruptures of the same seismic segment range from < 100 to > 450 years during the historical period. Over longer timescales, palaeoseismic evidence suggests intervals between earthquakes ranging from 100 to 700 years, however these figures reflect a range of thresholds controlling the creation and preservation of evidence at any given site as well as the genuine intervals between earthquakes. At present, there is no geological data that suggest the occurrence of a larger magnitude earthquake than that experienced in 1707 CE, however few studies have sought to establish the relative magnitudes of different earthquake and tsunami events along the Nankai-Suruga Trough. Alongside the lack of research designed to quantify the maximum magnitude of past earthquakes, we emphasise issues over alternative hypotheses for proposed palaeoseismic evidence, the paucity of robust chronological frameworks and insufficient appreciation of changing thresholds of evidence creation and preservation over time as key issues that must be addressed by future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-357
Number of pages21
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Early online date18 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Nankai Trough
  • Occurrence interval
  • Palaeoearthquake
  • Palaeoseismology
  • Palaeotsunami
  • Rupture zone
  • Seismic hazard
  • Supercycle

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