JDR Vol.13 Sci. Comm. sc20181108
doi: 10.20965/jdr.2018.sc20181108

Disaster Letter:

Solving the Puzzle of the September 2018 Palu, Indonesia, Tsunami Mystery: Clues from the Tsunami Waveform and the Initial Field Survey Data

Abdul Muhari*1, Fumihiko Imamura*2,†, Taro Arikawa*3, Aradea R. Hakim*4, and Bagus Afriyanto*1

*1Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries
Jl. Medan Merdeka Timur No.16, Jakarta, Indonesia

*2International Research Institute of Disaster Sciences (IRIDeS), Tohoku University, Miyagi, Japan

Corresponding author

*3Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan

*4Botram Ocean Technology Research and Management, Bandung, Indonesia

October 11, 2018
October 18, 2018
Online released:
November 8, 2018
earthquake and tsunami, Palu, field survey, disaster science

On September 28, 2018, following a magnitude 7.5 strike-slip fault earthquake, an unexpected tsunami inundated the coast of Palu bay, Sulawesi, Indonesia, causing many casualties and extensive property damage. However, the earthquake’s mechanism rarely generates a destructive tsunami. The tidal record at Pantoloan, located along the coast of Palu bay, indicates that the tsunami arrived 6 min after the earthquake and generated 2 m of receding water. It had a maximum wave height of 2 m and arrived approximately 2 min later. The tsunami had a relatively short period and caused devastation as far inland as 300 m. Additionally, 8 m high watermarks were observed near the coast; the flow depth decreased to 3.5 m inland (Fig. 1). Amateur videos and eyewitness accounts indicate that the tsunami did not enter the bay through its mouth but obliquely from an area inside the bay. Our hypothesis, therefore, is that the killer tsunami was most likely generated by an underwater landslide occurring inside Palu bay. While detailed bathymetric data are still needed to confirm this hypothesis, in this article we provide a preliminary analysis of the available data, supported by the results of a field survey, to strengthen this hypothesis and provide direction for further post-tsunami surveys and analysis.

Cite this article as:
A. Muhari, F. Imamura, T. Arikawa, A. Hakim, and B. Afriyanto, “Solving the Puzzle of the September 2018 Palu, Indonesia, Tsunami Mystery: Clues from the Tsunami Waveform and the Initial Field Survey Data,” J. Disaster Res., Vol.13 Sci. Comm., sc20181108, 2018.
Data files:
  1. [1] Indonesian Agency for Geospatial Information (BIG), “Real Time Tidal Observation,” [accessed September 29, 2018]
  2. [2] D. Petley, “Landslide tsunamis from the Sulawesi earthquake,” The Landslide Blog, 19 October 2018, [accessed October 24, 2018]

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Last updated on Jun. 03, 2024