Identifying Tsunami Sand in Salt Marsh Stratigraphy

Erin Peck, Oregon State University
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Initial Publication Date: December 16, 2019 | Reviewed: December 10, 2020


Through a hands-on activity using salt marsh sediment cores from Pacific Northwest estuaries, students will learn how these environments record the history of earthquakes and tsunami. Students will analyze the stratigraphy through visualization and touch. Students will additionally conduct an experiment to compare organic matter content within sediment sampled from different depths within the sediment core.

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This activity could be used for middle and high school students in an earth science class or for undergraduate students as an introductory geology or oceanography course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Most concepts can be covered by the teacher within an introductory presentation. Students should have a basic understanding of the scientific method, tectonics, and coastal landforms.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity could be a stand-alone exercise or as part of a sequence of exercises related to earthquakes and seismic hazards, Pacific Northwest seismic history, and/or sediment stratigraphy (i.e., how sediment records changes in the Earth's landscape over geologic time).


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will learn about how sediment records Earth's history, sediment core collection and basic stratigraphic analysis, salt marsh ecosystem services and threats, and U.S. Pacific Northwest earthquake history.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will practice formulation and testing of a hypothesis.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will practice working in groups and communicating hypotheses and findings.

Description and Teaching Materials

Please see the attached document for a full description including vocabulary, background, materials, activity setup, lesson plan timeline, guiding questions, etc.
Activity Description for Teachers (Acrobat (PDF) 29.2MB Dec16 19)
Example Tsunami Sediment Core Image (TIFF 6.3MB Dec16 19)
Activity Questions with Answers (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Dec16 19)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Feel free to edit this activity to fit the needs of your class. For instance, if you are studying the carbon cycle, you could just use the hydrogen peroxide experiment to compare the carbon content of sediment samples collected from different environments.


Students may either be assessed based on participation, or by their answers to the listed questions (answers are in red).

References and Resources

Sediment core collection video: