Diverse Approaches USED to Characterize the Earthquake and Tsunami Hazards Along the Southern Alaska Continental Margin
Abstract:Earthquakes and tsunamis are the principal geohazards of southern Alaska. The entire margin has ruptured in megathrust earthquakes, including the M9.2 1964 event, and these earthquakes have launched deadly local and trans-Pacific tsunamis. Tsunamis have been by far the largest killer in these earthquakes. Moreover, the subduction zone displays a range in locking behavior from completely locked beneath Prince William Sound, to nearly freely slipping beneath the Shumagin Islands.
Characterizing earthquake-related tsunami sources requires a diverse set of methods, and we discuss several examples. One important source for tsunamis is from megathrust splay faults. The Patton Bay splay fault system ruptured during the 1964 earthquake and generated a tsunami that impacted coastlines tens of minutes after the earthquake. A combination of multibeam mapping, high-resolution and crustal-scale seismic data, thermochronology, and detrital zircon geochronology show focused exhumation along this splay fault system for the last 2-3 Ma. Moreover, this long term pattern of exhumation mimics the pattern of uplift in 1964.
Submarine landslides are another example of a tsunami source. Numerous devastating slides were triggered by the 1964 earthquake. Multibeam bathymetry, bathymetry difference maps, high-resolution seismic data, and records of paleotsunamis in coastal marshes reveal a long history of submarine landsliding in the coastal fjords of Alaska. The Little Ice Age appears to have had a significant influence on the submarine landslides in the 1964 earthquake through increased sediment production, transport to fjord margins, and, locally, compaction by glacier advances. Glacial retreat before 1964 gave rise to over-steepened slopes susceptible to dynamic failure. Numerous blocks in the submarine landslides were particularly effective in generating high tsunami run up.
Finally, regional tectonic displacements of the seafloor have launched trans-Pacific tsunamis. Coastal evidence of high tsunamis in the eastern Aleutians has helped us understand the frequency of megathrust earthquakes west of Kodiak Island. Recent studies of vertical displacements produced by tsunamigenic earthquakes has led to new insights about the persistence of rupture boundaries and long term constraints on locking behavior.