LIDAR HELPS IDENTIFY SOURCE OF 1872 EARTHQUAKE NEAR CHELAN, WASHINGTON
Abstract:One of the largest historic earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest occurred on 15 December 1872 (M6.5-7) near the south end of Lake Chelan in north-central Washington State. Lack of recognized surface deformation suggested that the earthquake occurred on a blind, perhaps deep, fault. New LiDAR data show landslides and a ~6 km long, NW-side-up scarp in Spencer Canyon, ~30 km south of Lake Chelan.
Two landslides in Spencer Canyon impounded small ponds. An historical account indicated that dead trees were visible in one pond in AD1884. Wood from a snag in the pond yielded a calibrated age of AD1670–1940. Tree ring counts show that the oldest living trees on each landslide are 130 and 128 years old. The larger of the two landslides obliterated the scarp and thus, post-dates the last scarp-forming event.
Two trenches across the scarp exposed a NW-dipping thrust fault. One trench exposed alluvial fan deposits, Mazama ash, and scarp colluvium cut by a single thrust fault. Three charcoal samples from a colluvium buried during the last fault displacement had calibrated ages between AD1680 and AD1940. The second trench exposed gneiss thrust over colluvium during at least two, and possibly three fault displacements. The younger of two charcoal samples collected from a colluvium below gneiss had a calibrated age of AD1665– AD1905. For an historical constraint, we assume that the lack of felt reports for large earthquakes in the period between 1872 and today indicates that no large earthquakes capable of rupturing the ground surface occurred in the region after the 1872 earthquake; thus the last displacement on the Spencer Canyon scarp cannot post-date the 1872 earthquake. Modeling of the age data suggests that the last displacement occurred between AD1840 and AD1890. These data, combined with the historical record, indicate that this fault is the source of the 1872 earthquake. Analyses of aeromagnetic data reveal lithologic contacts beneath the scarp that form an ENE-striking, curvilinear zone ~2.5 km wide and ~55 km long. This zone coincides with monoclines mapped in Mesozoic bedrock and Miocene flood basalts. This study ends uncertainty regarding the source of the 1872 earthquake and provides important information for seismic hazard analyses of major infrastructure projects in Washington and British Columbia.