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1964 Great Alaska Earthquake: a photographic tour of Anchorage, Alaska

April 29, 2014

On March 27, 1964, at 5:36 p.m., a magnitude 9.2 earthquake, the largest recorded earthquake in U.S. history, struck southcentral Alaska (fig. 1). The Great Alaska Earthquake (also known as the Good Friday Earthquake) occurred at a pivotal time in the history of earth science, and helped lead to the acceptance of plate tectonic theory (Cox, 1973; Brocher and others, 2014). All large subduction zone earthquakes are understood through insights learned from the 1964 event, and observations and interpretations of the earthquake have influenced the design of infrastructure and seismic monitoring systems now in place. The earthquake caused extensive damage across the State, and triggered local tsunamis that devastated the Alaskan towns of Whittier, Valdez, and Seward. In Anchorage, the main cause of damage was ground shaking, which lasted approximately 4.5 minutes. Many buildings could not withstand this motion and were damaged or collapsed even though their foundations remained intact. More significantly, ground shaking triggered a number of landslides along coastal and drainage valley bluffs underlain by the Bootlegger Cove Formation, a composite of facies containing variably mixed gravel, sand, silt, and clay which were deposited over much of upper Cook Inlet during the Late Pleistocene (Ulery and others, 1983). Cyclic (or strain) softening of the more sensitive clay facies caused overlying blocks of soil to slide sideways along surfaces dipping by only a few degrees.

This guide is the document version of an interactive web map that was created as part of the commemoration events for the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake. It is accessible at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Center website: The website features a map display with suggested tour stops in Anchorage, historical photographs taken shortly after the earthquake, repeat photography of selected sites, scanned documents, and small-scale maps, as well as links to slideshows of additional photographs and Google Street View™ scenes. Buildings in Anchorage that were severely damaged, sites of major landslides, and locations of post-earthquake engineering responses are highlighted. The web map can be used online as a virtual tour or in a physical self-guided tour using a web-enabled Global Positioning System (GPS) device. This publication serves the purpose of committing most of the content of the web map to a single distributable document. As such, some of the content differs from the online version.

Publication Year 2014
Title 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake: a photographic tour of Anchorage, Alaska
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141086
Authors Evan E. Thoms, Peter J. Haeussler, Rebecca Anderson, Robert G. McGimsey
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2014-1086
Index ID ofr20141086
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center