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Source and progression of a submarine landslide and tsunami: The 1964 Great Alaska earthquake at Valdez

January 1, 2014

Like many subduction zone earthquakes, the deadliest aspects of the 1964 M = 9.2 Alaska earthquake were the tsunamis it caused. The worst of these were generated by local submarine landslides induced by the earthquake. These caused high runups, engulfing several coastal towns in Prince William Sound. In this paper, we study one of these cases in detail, the Port Valdez submarine landslide and tsunami. We combine eyewitness reports, preserved film, and careful posttsunami surveys with new geophysical data to inform numerical models for landslide tsunami generation. We review the series of events as recorded at Valdez old town and then determine the corresponding subsurface events that led to the tsunami. We build digital elevation models of part of the pretsunami and posttsunami fjord‐head delta. Comparing them reveals a ~1500 m long region that receded 150 m to the east, which we interpret as the primary delta landslide source. Multibeam imagery and high‐resolution seismic reflection data identify a ~400 m wide chute with hummocky deposits at its terminus, which may define the primary slide path. Using these elements we run hydrodynamic models of the landslide‐driven tsunamis that match observations of current direction, maximum inundation, and wave height at Valdez old town. We speculate that failure conditions at the delta front may have been influenced by manmade changes in drainage patterns as well as the fast retreat of Valdez and other glaciers during the past century.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Source and progression of a submarine landslide and tsunami: The 1964 Great Alaska earthquake at Valdez
DOI 10.1002/2014JB011514
Authors Thomas E. Parsons, Eric L. Geist, Holly F. Ryan, Homa J. Lee, Peter J. Haeussler, Patrick Lynett, Patrick E. Hart, Ray W. Sliter, Emily C. Roland
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth
Series Number
Index ID 70199971
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center