Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Research helps paint finer picture of massive 1700 earthquake

Date:
May 14, 2013
Source:
University of Pennsylvania
Summary:
In 1700, a massive earthquake struck the west coast of North America, but a lack of local documentation has made studying this historic event challenging. Now, researchers have helped unlock this geological mystery using a fossil-based technique. Their work provides a finer-grained portrait of this earthquake and the changes in coastal land level it produced, enabling modelers to better prepare for future events.

Benjamin Horton and Andrea Hawkes in the field.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Pennsylvania

In 1700, a massive earthquake struck the west coast of North America. Though it was powerful enough to cause a tsunami as far as Japan, a lack of local documentation has made studying this historic event challenging.

Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have helped unlock this geological mystery using a fossil-based technique. Their work provides a finer-grained portrait of this earthquake and the changes in coastal land level it produced, enabling modelers to better prepare for future events.

Penn's team includes Benjamin Horton, associate professor and director of the Sea Level Research Laboratory in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the School of Arts and Sciences, along with then lab members Simon Engelhart and Andrea Hawkes. They collaborated with researchers from Canada's University of Victoria, the National Taiwan University, the Geological Survey of Canada and the United States Geological Survey.

The research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone runs along the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States to Vancouver Island in Canada. This major fault line is capable of producing megathrust earthquakes 9.0 or higher, though, due to a dearth of observations or historical records, this trait was only discovered within the last several decades from geology records. The Lewis and Clark expedition did not make the first extensive surveys of the region until more than 100 years later, and contemporaneous aboriginal accounts were scarce and incomplete.

The 1700 Cascadia event was better documented in Japan than in the Americas. Records of the "orphan tsunami" -- so named because its "parent" earthquake was too far away to be felt -- gave earth scientists hints that this subduction zone was capable of such massive seismic activity. Geological studies provided information about the earthquake, but many critical details remained lost to history.

"Previous research had determined the timing and the magnitude, but what we didn't know was how the rupture happened," Horton said. "Did it rupture in one big long segment, more than a thousand kilometers, or did it rupture in parcels?"

To provide a clearer picture of how the earthquake occurred, Horton and his colleagues applied a technique they have used in assessing historic sea-level rise. They traveled to various sites along the Cascadia subduction zone, taking core samples from up and down the coast and working with local researchers who donated pre-existing data sets. The researchers' targets were microscopic fossils known as foraminifera. Through radiocarbon dating and an analysis of different species' positions with the cores over time, the researchers were able to piece together a historical picture of the changes in land and sea level along the coastline. The research revealed how much the coast suddenly subsided during the earthquake. This subsidence was used to infer how much the tectonic plates moved during the earthquake.

"What we were able to show for the first time is that the rupture of Cascadia was heterogeneous, making it similar to what happened with the recent major earthquakes in Japan, Chile and Sumatra," Horton said.

This level of regional detail for land level changes is critical for modeling and disaster planning.

"It's only when you have that data that you can start to build accurate models of earthquake ruptures and tsunami inundation," Horton said. "There were areas of the west coast of the United States that were more susceptible to larger coastal subsidence than others."

The Cascadia subduction zone is of particular interest to geologists and coastal managers because geological evidence points to recurring seismic activity along the fault line, with intervals between 300 and 500 years. With the last major event occurring in 1700, another earthquake could be on the horizon. A better understanding of how such an event might unfold has the potential to save lives.

"The next Cascadia earthquake has the potential to be the biggest natural disaster that the Unites States will have to come to terms with -- far bigger than Sandy or even Katrina," Horton said. "It would happen with very little warning; some areas of Oregon will have less than 20 minutes to evacuate before a large tsunami will inundate the coastline like in Sumatra in 2004 and Japan in 2011."

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the United States Geological Survey and the University of Victoria. Simon Engelhart and Andrea Hawkes are now assistant professors at the University of Rhode Island and the University of North Carolina, respectively. Their co-authors were Pei-Ling Wang of the University of Victoria and National Taiwan University, Kelin Wang of the University of Victoria and the Geological Survey of Canada's Pacific Geoscience Centre, Alan Nelson of the United States Geological Survey's Geologic Hazards Science Center and Robert Witter of the United States Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Pennsylvania. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Pei-Ling Wang, Simon E. Engelhart, Kelin Wang, Andrea D. Hawkes, Benjamin P. Horton, Alan R. Nelson, Robert C. Witter. Heterogeneous rupture in the great Cascadia earthquake of 1700 inferred from coastal subsidence estimates. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/jgrb.50101

Cite This Page:

University of Pennsylvania. "Research helps paint finer picture of massive 1700 earthquake." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130514190635.htm>.
University of Pennsylvania. (2013, May 14). Research helps paint finer picture of massive 1700 earthquake. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130514190635.htm
University of Pennsylvania. "Research helps paint finer picture of massive 1700 earthquake." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130514190635.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) A disease that has killed more than six million cave-dwelling bats in the United States is on the move and wildlife biologists are worried. White Nose Syndrome, discovered in New York in 2006, has now spread to 25 states. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Pictures of Ship That Sank in 1888

New Pictures of Ship That Sank in 1888

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) Federal researchers have released new images of the City of Chester, a steamship that sank in San Francisco Bay in 1888. Researchers recently found the shipwreck while mapping shipping routes. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Risk of Asteroid Hitting Earth Higher Than Thought, Study Shows

Risk of Asteroid Hitting Earth Higher Than Thought, Study Shows

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 23, 2014) A group of space explorers say the chance of a city-obliterating asteroid striking Earth is higher than scientists previously believed. Deborah Gembara reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

AFP (Apr. 23, 2014) The UN mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) led a mine clearance demonstration on Wednesday in the UN-controlled buffer zone where demining operations are being conducted near the Cypriot village of Mammari. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins