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Rethinking turbidite paleoseismology along the Cascadia subduction zone

June 17, 2014

A stratigraphic synthesis of dozens of deep-sea cores, most of them overlooked in recent decades, provides new insights into deep-sea turbidites as guides to earthquake and tsunami hazards along the Cascadia subduction zone, which extends 1100 km along the Pacific coast of North America. The synthesis shows greater variability in Holocene stratigraphy and facies off the Washington coast than was recognized a quarter century ago in a confluence test for seismic triggering of sediment gravity flows. That test compared counts of Holocene turbidites upstream and downstream of a deep-sea channel junction. Similarity in the turbidite counts among seven core sites provided evidence that turbidity currents from different submarine canyons usually reached the junction around the same time, as expected of widespread seismic triggering. The fuller synthesis, however, shows distinct differences between tributaries, and these differences suggest sediment routing for which the confluence test was not designed. The synthesis also bears on recent estimates of Cascadia earthquake magnitudes and recurrence intervals. The magnitude estimates hinge on stratigraphic correlations that discount variability in turbidite facies. The recurrence estimates require turbidites to represent megathrust earthquakes more dependably than they do along a flow path where turbidite frequency appears limited less by seismic shaking than by sediment supply. These concerns underscore the complexity of extracting earthquake history from deep-sea turbidites at Cascadia.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Rethinking turbidite paleoseismology along the Cascadia subduction zone
DOI 10.1130/G35902.1
Authors Brian F. Atwater, Bobb Carson, Gary B. Griggs, H. Paul Johnson, Marie Salmi
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geology
Series Number
Index ID 70189755
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center

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