Sedimentary evidence of extreme storm surge or tsunami events in the southern Baltic Sea (Rogowo area, NW Poland)

Andrzej Piotrowski, Witold Szczuciński, Paweł Sydor, Bartosz Kotrys, Monika Rzodkiewicz, Jarmila Krzymińska


The Baltic Sea is not typically considered as an area affected by tsunamis. However, during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene several tsunami events have been interpreted from the sedimentary record, mainly in Sweden and Estonia. Furthermore, on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, there are historical accounts of catastrophical marine floodings called “der Seebär” (“the Sea Bear”). Their descriptions reveal many features typical for tsunami, but their genesis remained unknown and sedimentary evidence for such events has not been found. Here we provide evidence of sandy event layers from the area of Rogowo, NW Poland – the area of historical catastrophic storms as well as “der Seebär” events. The study area is a low-lying coastal plain with an average elevation of –0.5 to +0.5 m a.s.l., protected from the open sea by beach and coastal dune systems up to 5 m high. Sedimentological, micropalaeontological and geochemical analyses along with AMS 14C dating were applied to sedimentary successions seen in 5 major trenches and 198 sediment cores up to 1.5 m long. Two sandy layers were identified in the peat deposits that developed on the plain during the last ~2000 years. They reveal a number of typical features of tsunami deposits (significant lateral extent and thickness, rip-up clasts, chemical and micropalaeontological evidence of marine origin), however, 14C dating along with the historical accounts revealed that the major layer, extending at least 1.2 km from the modern coasts, was probably deposited by arguably the largest storm surge during the last 2000 years, which took place in 1497 AD. These storm deposits were likely formed during inundation of the low-lying coastal plain after major breaching of coastal dunes resulting in tsunami – like flow pattern and thus similar sedimentological effects. A discontinuous sand layer of younger age (18th century) and sharing similar properties to the previous one may be related to “der Seebär” event or another storm surge. The study revealed that the southern Baltic Sea coast may be affected by much greater coastal flooding than known from more recent accounts and observations. Thus, the presented geological record should be taken as an example of a worst-case scenario in coastal zone risk assessment from natural hazards. These events left sedimentary deposits that resemble tsunami deposits. It is likely that, in similar settings where storm surges cause unidirectional inundation of a coastal plain, it may not be possible to establish whether the resulting deposits were laid down from storms or tsunamis.


tsunami deposits; storm deposits; grain size analysis; geochemistry; radiocarbon dating, Baltic Sea

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