Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Reconnaissance engineering geology of Sitka and vicinity, Alaska, with emphasis on evaluation of earthquake and other geologic hazards

January 1, 1974

A program to study the engineering geology of most of the larger Alaska coastal communities and to evaluate their earthquake and other geologic hazards was started following the 1964 Alaska earthquake; this report about Sitka and vicinity is a product of that program. Field-study methods were of a reconnaissance nature, and thus the interpretations in the report are subject to revision as further information becomes available. This report can provide broad geologic guidelines for planners and engineers during preparation of land-use plans. The use of this information should lead to minimizing future loss of life and property due to geologic hazards, especially during very large earthquakes.

Landscape of Sitka and surrounding area is characterized by numerous islands and a narrow strip of gently rolling ground adjacent to rugged mountains; steep valleys and some fiords cut sharply into the mountains. A few valley floors are wide and flat and grade into moderate-sized deltas.

Glaciers throughout southeastern Alaska and elsewhere became vastly enlarged during the Pleistocene Epoch. The Sitka area presumably was covered by ice several times; glaciers deeply eroded some valleys and removed fractured bedrock along some faults. The last major deglaciation occurred sometime before 10,000 years ago. Crustal rebound believed to be related to glacial melting caused land emergence at Sitka of at least 35 feet (10.7 m) relative to present sea level.

Bedrock at Sitka and vicinity is composed mostly of bedded, hard, dense graywacke and some argillite. Beds strike predominantly northwest and are vertical or steeply dipping. Locally, bedded rocks are cut by dikes of fine-grained igneous rock. Host bedrock is of Jurassic and Cretaceous age.

Eight types of surficial deposits of Quaternary age were recognized. Below altitudes of 3S feet (10.7 m), the dominant deposits are those of modern and elevated shores and deltas; at higher altitudes, widespread muskeg overlies a mantle of volcanic ash which commonly overlies glacial drift. Alluvial deposits are minor. Man-emplaced embankment fill, chiefly sandy gravel, covers many muskeg and former offshore areas; quarried blocks of graywacke are placed to form breakwaters and to edge large areas of embankment fill and modified ground.

The geologic structure of the area is known only in general outlines. Most bedded Mesozoic rocks probably are part of broad northwest-trending complexes of anticlines and synclines. Intrusion of large bodies of plutonic igneous rocks occurred in Tertiary and Cretaceous time. Extensive faulting is suggested by the numerous linear to gently curving patterns of some fiords, lakes, and valleys, and by a group of Holocene volcanoes and cinder cones. Two major northwest-striking fault zones are most prominent: (1) the apparently inactive Chichagof-Sitka fault, about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) northeast of Sitka, and {2) part of the active 800-mile- (1,200-km) long Fairweather-Queen Charlotte Islands fault system, lying about 30 miles (48 km) southwest of the city.

Many earthquakes have been reported as felt at Sitka since 1832, when good records were first maintained; several shocks were very strong, but none of them caused severe damage. The closest major earthquake (magnitude about 7.3) causing some damage to the city occurred July 30, 1972, and had an epicenter about 30 miles (48 km) to the southwest. Movement along the Fairweather-Queen Charlotte Islands fault system apparently caused most of the earthquakes felt at Sitka.

The probability of destructive earthquakes at Sitka is unknown. The tectonics of the region and the seismic record suggest that sometime in the future an earthquake of a magnitude of about 8 and related to the Fairweather-Queen Charlotte Islands fault system probably will occur in or near the area.

Effects from some nearby major earthquakes could cause substantial damage at Sitka. Eight possible effects are as follows:

1. Sudden dis

Publication Year 1974
Title Reconnaissance engineering geology of Sitka and vicinity, Alaska, with emphasis on evaluation of earthquake and other geologic hazards
DOI 10.3133/ofr7453
Authors Lynn A. Yehle
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 74-53
Index ID ofr7453
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse