Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Mass wasting along the Cascadia subduction zone: Implications for abyssal turbidite sources and the earthquake record

September 16, 2022

The only submarine records of large (>Mw7) prehistoric earthquakes along the Cascadia subduction zone are derived from sequences of deep sea turbidites interpreted to represent synchronous, shaking-induced failures along the continental slope. However, the spatial correlation of these deposits along the margin is complicated and the chronological constraints involve significant uncertainties, raising questions about how these deposits were generated. Here we present the most comprehensive spatial database of seafloor failure scarps across the Cascadia margin to date, with more than 8700 features mapped. We observe pervasive mass wasting of the steep lower slope along the ∼800 km length of the margin. This portion of the margin is heavily deformed, uplifted and oversteepened, such that it may be optimally preconditioned to fail during intense shaking events. Our results suggest disintegration of the steep lower slope is likely the primary source of turbidity flows triggered by earthquake shaking in Cascadia. This more proximal source for seismoturbidite generation may be the principal process along subduction margins with steep lower slope topography and may explain why seismoturbidites are found in areas containing few submarine canyons. Furthermore, the extensive mass wasting present on the steep lower slope of central Cascadia, a critical 250 km long section where no records currently exist, suggests additional turbidite records may be found along this portion of the margin by selecting optimal sample sites based on failure patterns. The strong clustering of seafloor failures along the lower slope also suggests the most earthquake intense shaking may be spatially restricted to a narrow zone along the deformation front, which could have important implications for hazard predictions across the region.

Publication Year 2022
Title Mass wasting along the Cascadia subduction zone: Implications for abyssal turbidite sources and the earthquake record
DOI 10.1016/j.epsl.2022.117797
Authors Jenna C. Hill, Janet Watt, Daniel S. Brothers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Index ID 70238951
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center