, Volume 4, Issue 2-3, pp 301-316

The tsunami threat on the Mexican west coast: A historical analysis and recommendations for hazard mitigation

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Abstract

From an inspection of all tide gauge records for the western coast of Mexico over the last 37 years, a data base of all recorded tsunamis was made. Information on relevant historical events dating back two centuries, using newspaper archives, previous catalogs, and local witness interviews, was added to produce a catalog of tsunamis for the western coast of Mexico. A description of the 1932 Cuyutlán tsunami is given. This is considered to be the most destructive local tsunami which has ever occurred in the region for which historical accounts are available. It was preceded by two precursor events, a not uncommon occurrence in that zone. A summary of the generation and coastal effects from the 1985 Michoacán tsunamis is also given. These Michoacán tsunamis are the most recent local events in that zone.

This information, and knowledge of local undersea faulting characteristics along the Mexican Pacific coast, leads to a clear differentiation of two zones of potential tsunami hazard: locally generated tsunamis south of the Rivera fracture, in the Cocos plate subsidence region, and remotely generated tsunamis north of this zone. Based on this zonation, two types of tsunami warning systems are proposed: real-time for the southern zone, and delayed-time for the northern. A description is provided of the Baja California Regional Tsunami Warning System that is presently operational in the northern zone.

Several major industrial ports and tourist resort areas are located in the southern zone, and are therefore most vulnerable to local destructive tsunamis. Some of these sites represent important socioeconomic resources for Mexico, and have therefore been chosen for a vulnerability assessment and microzonation risk analysis. Land use patterns are identified, risks defined, and recommendations to minimize future tsunami impact are given. One case is illustrated.