Abstract

An unusual stratigraphic unit (nicknamed “homogenite”) fills topographic lows in the complex ridge and trough bathymetry at two survey sites on the Western Mediterranean Ridge and the Calabrian Ridge. On near-bottom 4-kHz seismic-reflection profiles, this unit us an acoustically transparent, near-surface, flat-lying layer, whereas in cores, it is a homogeneous gray marl as much as 7 m thick. Grain size decreases upcore within the unit, implying that it was deposited in a single event controlled by gravitational settling. The stratigraphic position of the homogenite relative to a firmly dated sapropel bed suggests emplacement between 4400 and 3100 yr B.P. The source of the homogenite is inferred to be the nearby basin walls. Farther east, two other sites with similar rugged topography lack homogenite entirely.

A triggering mechanism is required which is capable of initiating massive sediment transport simultaneously in many separate basins at the western two survey sites, but which is not effective at the eastern sites. A large archeologically recorded earthquake of the correct age is considered and rejected because its epicenter is closer to the nonhomogenite-bearing sites than to the sites where this sediment type was observed, and because several other earthquakes of comparable magnitude have since been recorded in the area, whereas the homogenite is unique. The 3,500 yr B.P. collapse of the caldera of the volcano of Santorini caused a huge tsunami which is recorded archeologically and geologically around the eastern Mediterranean. Because of refraction of the tsunami by the bathymetry, and because the caldera collapsed in its southwest corner, a disproportionate amount of tsunami energy was directed toward the western area where homogenite is observed. In contrast, the homogenite-free sites were relatively sheltered. An order-of-magnitude calculation shows that the near-bottom oscillating currents accompanying the Santorini tsunami were at or above the threshold erosion velocity at the homogenite-bearing sites. In addition, the near-bottom pressure pulse under the tsunami at the homogenite-bearing sites was sufficient to cause liquefaction of sediments. Neither mechanism was adequate to cause sediment transport or slope failure at the homogenite-free sites.

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