Analysis of generation and arrival time of landslide tsunami to Palu City due to the 2018 Sulawesi earthquake

Hiroshi Takagi*, Munawir Bintang Pratama, Shota Kurobe, Miguel Esteban, Rafael Aránguiz, Bowei Ke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Tsunami waves severely damaged the densely populated coast of Palu City immediately after the 2018 Mw 7.5 Sulawesi earthquake. Among the several tsunami waves that arrived to the city, the two initial waveforms were most likely generated by a landslide at the south-western shore of Palu Bay, about 5 km away from one of the city’s shopping malls. The authors accurately identified the arrival time and direction of the waves by comparing multiple videos taken by a pilot from the cockpit of a plane and local people who witnessed waves approaching the coast. Although the authors’ bathymetric survey only covered a limited area of 0.78 km 2 , it was found that about 3.2 million m 3 of mass disappeared from it, causing a maximum decrease in the seabed elevation of 40 m. A landslide scarp up to 5 m height was also investigated in the southwestern shore of the bay, which seems to be relatively minor compared to the submarine mass failure. Visible clue for liquefaction was not observed at this particular site. A simplified numerical model suggests that the landslide tsunami propagated as an edge wave and split into two separate waves due to the presence of an underwater shallow area just north of Palu City. Both waves arrived to the coast of this city within several minutes: one from North-West and the other from the North. Three major waves were witnessed by residents, who felt horizontal and vertical ground movements and heard the sound of an explosion just after the earthquake. Wave splash exceeded the height of trees on the beach. Given the results, the authors conclude that any modern early warning system is unlikely to work well against such short-warning time tsunamis, and thus, it is necessary for disaster risk managers to consider a way to help people quickly become aware of the potential disaster and evacuate.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jan 1


  • 2018 Sulawesi Earthquake
  • Field survey
  • Interview survey
  • Landslide
  • Numerical simulation
  • Palu
  • Tsunami

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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