Tsunamis Along the Azores Gibraltar Plate Boundary

  • M. A. BaptistaEmail author


The Eurasia–Nubia plate boundary between the Azores and the Strait of Gibraltar has been the place of large tsunamigenic earthquakes. The tectonic regime is extensional in the Azores, transcurrent along the Gloria Fault, and compressional in the Strait of Gibraltar. Here, the plate boundary is not clearly defined. The knowledge of past events that occurred in the area constitutes an essential contribution to the evaluations of seismic and tsunami hazard in the North-East Atlantic. In this study, we present an overview of the six major events in the area and show the use of tsunami data to add some constraints on their source. The historical events occurred in the eighteenth-century between 1722 and 1761, while the twentieth-century events occurred between 1941 and 1975. We speculate that major tsunamigenic earthquakes that occur in the Iberia-Maghreb area take place at the boundaries of a lithospheric block approximately defined by the location the six events summarized here, which role and dynamics are not yet understood.


Tsunamis Atlantic Eurasia–Nubia plate boundary 



The author wishes to thank J. M. Miranda for the fruitful discussions and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript. The author wishes to thank project TROYO Training of Youth for preparedness Against Marine Hazards.


  1. Abe, K. (1979). Size of great earthquakes of 1837–1974 inferred from tsunami data. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 84(B4), 1561–1568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andrade, C., Freitas, M. C., Oliveira, M. A., & Costa, P. J. (2016). On the sedimentological and historical evidences of seismic-triggered tsunamis on the Algarve Coast of Portugal. Plate Boundaries and Natural Hazards (pp. 219–238). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  3. Antunes, M. T. (1944). Notas Acerca do Sismo de 25 de Novembro de 1941. In 4th congress of Portuguese association for the advance of sciences, Porto, 18–24 June, 1942. Tomo III, 2nd Section, pp. 161–172 (in Portuguese).Google Scholar
  4. Argus, D. F., & Gordon, R. G. (1991). No-net-rotation model of current plate velocities incorporating plate motion model NUVEL-1. Geophysical Research Letters, 18(11), 2039–2042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Argus, D. F., Gordon, R. G., DeMets, C., & Stein, S. (1989). Closure of the Africa-Eurasia-North America plate motion circuit and tectonics of the Gloria fault. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 94(B5), 5585–5602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baba, T., Cummins, R., & Hori, T. (2005). Compound fault rupture during the 2004 off the Kii Peninsula earthquake (M 7.4) inferred from highly resolved coseismic sea-surface deformation. Earth Planets Space, 57(3), 167–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baptista, M. A., Heitor, S., Miranda, J. M., Miranda, P., & Victor, L. M. (1998a). The 1755 Lisbon tsunami; evaluation of the tsunami parameters. Journal of Geodynamics, 25(1–2), 143–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baptista, M. A., & Miranda, J. M. (2009). Revision of the Portuguese catalog of tsunamis. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 9(1), 25–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Baptista, M. A., Miranda, J. M., Batlló, J., Lisboa, F., Luis, J., & Maciá, R. (2016). New study on the 1941 Gloria Fault earthquake and tsunami. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 16(8), 1967–1977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Baptista, M. A., Miranda, J. M., Chierici, F., & Zitellini, N. (2003). New study of the 1755 earthquake source based on multi-channel seismic survey data and tsunami modeling. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 3(5), 333–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Baptista, M. A., Miranda, J. M., Lopes, F. C., & Luis, J. F. (2007). The source of the 1722 Algarve earthquake: Evidence from MCS and Tsunami data. Journal of Seismology, 11(4), 371–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Baptista, M. A., Miranda, J. M., & Luis, J. F. (2006). In search of the 31 March 1761 earthquake and tsunami source. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 96(2), 713–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Baptista, M. A., Miranda, J. M., Matias, L., & Omira, R. (2017). Synthetic tsunami waveform catalogs with kinematic constraints. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 17(7), 1253–1265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Baptista, M. A., Miranda, P. E., & Victor, L. M. (1992). Maximum entropy analysis of Portuguese tsunami data; the tsunamis of 28.02.1969 and 26.05.1975. Science Tsunami Hazards, 10(1), 9–20.Google Scholar
  15. Baptista, M. A., Miranda, P. M. A., Miranda, J. M., & Victor, L. M. (1998b). Constrains on the source of the 1755 Lisbon tsunami inferred from numerical modelling of historical data on the source of the 1755 Lisbon tsunami. Journal of Geodynamics, 25(1–2), 159–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Barkan, R., Uri, S., & Lin, J. (2009). Far field tsunami simulations of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake: Implications for tsunami hazard to the US East Coast and the Caribbean. Marine Geology, 264(1–2), 109–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Borlase, W. (1762). Some account of the extraordinary agitation of the waters in Mount’s-bay, and other places, on the 31st of March 1761: In a letter for the Reverend Dr. C Lyttelton. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 52, 418–431.Google Scholar
  18. Buforn, E., Bezzeghoud, M., Udias, A., & Pro, C. (2004). Seismic sources on the Iberia-African plate boundary and their tectonic implications. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 161(3), 623–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Buforn, E., Udias, A., & Colombas, M. A. (1988). Seismicity, source mechanisms and tectonics of the Azores-Gibraltar plate boundary. Tectonophysics, 152(1), 89–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. De La Torre, F. R. (1997). Revisión del Catálogo Sísmico Ibérico (años 1760 a 1800) Estudio realizado para Instituto Geográfico Nacional, mediante convenio de investigación número 7.070, de 1997, Madrid.Google Scholar
  21. Debrach, J. (1946). Raz de marée d’origine sismique enregistre´ sur le littoral atlantique du Maroc (in French). Annales, Maroc: Service de Physique du Globe et de l’institut scientifique Chérifien.Google Scholar
  22. DeMets, C., Gordon, R. G., Argus, D. F., & Stein, S. (1994). Effect of recent revisions to the geomagnetic reversal time scale on estimates of current plate motions. Geophysical Research Letters, 21(20), 2191–2194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Di Filippo, D. (1949). Il terremoto delle Azzore del 25 Nov. 1941. Annali Geofis, 2, 400–405.Google Scholar
  24. Duarte, J. C., Rosas, F. M., Terrinha, P., Schellart, W. P., Boutelier, D., Gutscher, M. A., et al. (2013). Are subduction zones invading the Atlantic? Evidence from the southwest Iberia margin. Geology, 41(8), 839–842.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fukao, Y. (1973). Thrust faulting at a lithospheric plate boundary the Portugal earthquake of 1969. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 18(2), 205–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gjevik, B., Pedersen, G., Dybesland, E., Harbitz, C. B., Miranda, P. M. A., Baptista, M. A., et al. (1997). Modeling tsunamis from earthquake sources near Gorringe Bank southwest of Portugal. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 102(C13), 27931–27949.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gracia, E., Danobeitia, J., Vergés, J., & PARSIFAL Team. (2003). Mapping active faults offshore Portugal (36 N–38 N): Implications for seismic hazard assessment along the southwest Iberian margin. Geology, 31(1), 83–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grimison, N. L. (1988). Source mechanisms of four recent earthquakes along the Azores-Gibraltar plate boundary. Geophysical Journal International, 92, 391–401.Google Scholar
  29. Guesmia, M., Heinrich, P., & Mariotti, C. (1996). Finite element modelling of the 1969 Portuguese tsunami. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 21(1–2), 1–6. Scholar
  30. Guesmia, M., Heinrich, P. H., & Mariotti, C. (1998). Numerical simulation of the 1969 Portuguese tsunami by a finite element method. Natural Hazards, 17(1), 31–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gutenberg, B., & Richter, C. F. (1949). Seismicity of the earth and associated phenomena. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Gutscher, M. A., Baptista, M. A., & Miranda, J. M. (2006). The Gibraltar Arc seismogenic zone (part 2): Constraints on a shallow east dipping fault plane source for the 1755 Lisbon earthquake provided by tsunami modeling and seismic intensity. Tectonophysics, 426(1–2), 153–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gutscher, M. A., Malod, J., Rehault, J. P., Contrucci, I., Klingelhoefer, F., Mendes-Victor, L., et al. (2002). Evidence for active subduction beneath Gibraltar. Geology, 30(12), 1071–1074.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hadley, D. M., & Kanamori, H. (1975). Seismotectonics of the Eastern Azores-Gibraltar Ridge. In Transactions of American Geophysical Union (Vol. 56, No. 12, pp. 1028–1028). Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.Google Scholar
  35. Heinrich, P., Baptista, M. A., & Miranda, P. (1994). Numerical simulation of the 1969 tsunami along the Portuguese coasts. Preliminary results. Science of Tsunami Hazards, 12(1), 3–23.Google Scholar
  36. Hirata, K., Geist, E., Satake, K., Tanioka, Y., & Yamaki, S. (2003). Slip distribution of the 1952 Tokachi‐Oki earthquake (M 8.1) along the Kuril trench deduced from tsunami waveform inversion. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth (19782012), 108(B4).Google Scholar
  37. Johnson, J. M., Satake, K., Holdahl, S. R., & Sauber, J. (1996). The 1964 Prince William Sound earthquake: Joint inversion of tsunami and geodetic data. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth (1978–2012), 101(B1), 523–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Johnston, A. C. (1996). Seismic moment assessment of earthquakes in stable continental regions—III. New Madrid 1811–1812, Charleston 1886 and Lisbon 1755. Geophysical Journal International, 126(2), 314–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kaabouben, F., Brahim, A. I., Toto, E., Baptista, M. A., Miranda, J. M., Soares, P., et al. (2008). On the focal mechanism of the 26.05.1975 North Atlantic event contribution from tsunami modeling. Journal of Seismology, 12(4), 575–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Laughton, A. S., Whitmarsh, R. B., Rusby, J. S. M., Somers, M. L., Revie, J., McCartney, B. S., et al. (1972). A continuous East-West fault on the Azores-Gibraltar Ridge. Nature, 237, 217–220. Scholar
  41. Levret, A. (1991). The effects of the November 1, 1755 “Lisbon” earthquake in Morocco. Tectonophysics, 193(1–3), 83–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lopes, F. C., Cunha, P. P., & Le Gall, B. (2006). Cenozoic seismic stratigraphy and tectonic evolution of the Algarve margin (offshore Portugal, southwestern Iberian Peninsula). Marine Geology, 231(1–4), 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Luis, J. F. (2007). Mirone: A multi-purpose tool for exploring grid data. Computers and Geosciences, 33(1), 31–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lynnes, C. S., & Ruff, L. J. (1985). Source process and tectonic implications of the great 1975 North Atlantic earthquake. Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 82, 497–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mader, C. L. (1988). Numerical modeling of water waves. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  46. Mallet, R. (1852). Report on the facts of earthquake phenomena.Google Scholar
  47. McKenzie, D. (1972). Active tectonics of the Mediterranean region. Geophysical Journal International, 30(2), 109–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mezcua, J., & Solares, J. M. M. (1983). Sismicidad del área Ibero-mogrebí, I.G.N., No. 203, Madrid.
  49. Miranda, J. M., Baptista, M. A., & Omira, R. (2014). On the use of Green's summation for tsunami waveform estimation: A case study. Geophysical Journal International, 199(1), 459–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Miranda, J. M., Matias, L., Terrinha, P., Zitellini, N., Baptista, M. A., Chierici, F., Embriaco, D., Marinaro, G., Monna, S., & Pignagnoli, L. (2015). Marine seismogenic-tsunamigenic prone areas: The Gulf of Cadiz. In Seafloor observatories (Springer, Berlin, pp. 105–125).Google Scholar
  51. Miranda, J. M., Miranda, P. M. A., Baptista, M. A., & Victor, L. M. (1996). A comparison of the spectral characteristics of observed and simulated tsunamis. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 21(1–2), 71–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Miyabe, N. (1934). An Investigation of the Sanriku Tsunami based on mareogram data. Bulletin of the Earthquake Research Institute, Tokyo University, Suppl. 1, 112–126.Google Scholar
  53. Moreira, V. S. (1968). Tsunamis observados em Portugal. Publicacao GEO, 134 (in Portuguese).Google Scholar
  54. Moreira, V. S. (1984). Sismicidade Histórica de Portugal Continental, Separata da Revista do Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia e Geofísica, Portugal, pp. 1–79.Google Scholar
  55. Okada, Y. (1985). Surface deformation due to shear and tensile faults in a half-space. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 75(4), 1135–1154.Google Scholar
  56. Oliveira, C. S. (1986). A sismicidade Histórica em Portugal Continental e a Revisão do Catálogo sísmico Nacional, Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil, Proc. 36/1177638, 235, Lisboa.Google Scholar
  57. Omira, R., Baptista, M. A., Matias, L., Miranda, J. M., Catita, C., Carrilho, F., et al. (2009). Design of a sea-level tsunami detection network for the Gulf of Cadiz. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 9(4), 1327–1338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Omira, R., Baptista, M. A., & Miranda, J. M. (2011). Evaluating tsunami impact on the Gulf of Cadiz coast (Northeast Atlantic). Pure and Applied Geophysics, 168(6–7), 1033–1043.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Perrey, A. (1847). Sur les tremblements de terre de la Peninsule Ibérique. Annales des sciences physiques et naturelles, d’agriculture et d’industrie, X. Societé Royale d’agriculture, d’histoire naturelle et des arts utiles, Lyon.Google Scholar
  60. Pires, C., & Miranda, P. (2001). Tsunami waveform inversion by adjoint methods. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 106(C9), 19773–19796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rothé, J. P. (1951). The structure of the bed of the Atlantic Ocean. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, 32(3), 457–461. Scholar
  62. Santos, Â., Koshimura, S., & Imamura, F. (2009). The 1755 Lisbon Tsunami: Tsunami source determination and its validation. Journal of Disaster Research, 4(1), 41–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Satake, K. (1987). Inversion of tsunami waveforms for the estimation of a fault heterogeneity: Method and numerical experiments. Journal of Physics of the Earth, 35(3), 241–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Satake, K. (1993). Depth distribution of co-seismic slip along the Nankai Trough, Japan, from joint inversion of geodetic and tsunami data. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth (1978–2012), 98(B3), 4553–4565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Satake, K., Baba, T., Hirata, K., Iwasaki, S. I., Kato, T., Koshimura, S., et al. (2005). Tsunami source of the 2004 off the Kii Peninsula earthquakes inferred from offshore tsunami and coastal tide gauges. Earth, Planets and Space, 57(3), 173–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Solares, J. M., & Arroyo, A. L. (2004). The great historical 1755 earthquake. Effects and damage in Spain. Journal of Seismology, 8(2), 275–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Solares, J. M., Arroyo, A. L., & Mezcua, J. (1979). Isoseismal map of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake obtained from Spanish data. Tectonophysics, 53(3–4), 301–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Terrinha, P., Matias, L., Vicente, J., Duarte, J., Luis, J., Pinheiro, L., et al. (2009). Morphotectonics and strain partitioning at the Iberia-Africa plate boundary from multibeam and seismic reflection data. Marine Geology, 267(3–4), 156–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Titov, V. V., Gonzalez, F. I., Bernard, E. N., Eble, M. C., Mofjeld, H. O., Newman, J. C., & Venturato, A. J. (2005). Real-time tsunami forecasting: Challenges and solutions. In Developing tsunami-resilient communities (Springer, Amsterdam, pp. 41–58).Google Scholar
  70. Tsushima, H., Hino, R., Fujimoto, H., Tanioka, Y., & Imamura, F. (2009). Near-field tsunami forecasting from cabled ocean bottom pressure data. Journal of Geophysical Research, 114, B06309. Scholar
  71. Udias, A., & Arroyo, A. L. (1972). Plate tectonics and the Azores-Gibraltar region. Nature Physical Science, 237(74), 67–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Udias, A., Arroyo, A. L., & Mezcua, J. (1976). Seismotectonic of the Azores-Alboran region. Tectonophysics, 31(3–4), 259–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wronna, M., Baptista, M. A., & Miranda, J. M. (2019). Reanalysis of the 1761 transatlantic tsunami. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 19(2), 337–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wronna, M., Omira, R., & Baptista, M. A. (2015). Deterministic approach for multiple-source tsunami hazard assessment for Sines, Portugal. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 15(11), 2557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wu, T. R., & Ho, T. C. (2011). High resolution tsunami inversion for 2010 Chile earthquake. Natural Hazards and Earth System Science, 11(12), 3251–3261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Yasuda, T., & Mase, H. (2012). Real-time tsunami prediction by inversion method using offshore observed GPS buoy data: Nankaido. Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal, and Ocean Engineering, 139(3), 221–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zitellini, N., Chierici, F., Sartori, R., & Torelli, L. (1999). The tectonic source of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. Annali di Geofisica, 42(1), 49–55.Google Scholar
  78. Zitellini, N., Gràcia, E., Matias, L., Terrinha, P., Abreu, M. A., DeAlteriis, G., et al. (2009). The quest for the Africa-Eurasia plate boundary west of the Strait of Gibraltar. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 280(1–4), 13–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Zitellini, N., Mendes, L. A., Cordoba, D., Danobeitia, J., Nicolich, R., Pellis, G., et al. (2001). Source of 1755 Lisbon earthquake, tsunami investigated. EOS, 82(26), 285–291.Google Scholar
  80. Zitellini, N., Rovere, M., Terrinha, P., Chierici, F., Matias, L., & Team, B. (2004). Neogene through Quaternary tectonic reactivation of SW Iberian passive margin. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 161(3), 565–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa, Instituto Politécnico de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Instituto Dom Luiz, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de LisboaUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal

Personalised recommendations