Turbidite paleoseismology aims to use submarine gravity flow deposits (turbidites) as proxies for large earthquakes, a critical assumption being that large earthquakes generate turbidity currents synchronously over a wide area. We test whether all large earthquakes generate synchronous turbidites, and if not, investigate where large earthquakes fail to do this. The Sumatran margin has a well-characterized earthquake record spanning the past 200 yr, including the large-magnitude earthquakes in 2004 (Mw 9.1) and 2005 (Mw 8.7). Sediment cores collected from the central Sumatran margin in 2009 reveal that surprisingly few turbidites were emplaced in the past 100–150 yr, and those that were deposited are not widespread. Importantly, slope basin deposits preserve no evidence of turbidites that correlate with the earthquakes in 2004 and 2005, although recent flow deposits are seen in the trench. Adjacent slope basins and adjacent pairs of slope basin and trench sites commonly have different sedimentary records, and cannot be correlated. These core sites from the central Sumatran margin do not support the assumption that all large earthquakes generate the widespread synchronous turbidites necessary for reconstructing an accurate paleoearthquake record.

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