New Imaging of Submarine Landslides from the 1964 Earthquake Near Whittier, Alaska, and a Comparison to Failures in Other Alaskan Fjords

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Conference Proceeding

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The 1964 Alaska M w 9.2 earthquake triggered numerous submarine slope failures in fjords of southern Alaska. These failures generated local tsunamis, such as at Whittier, where they inundated the town within 4 min of the beginning of shaking. Run-up was up to 32 m, with 13 casualties. We collected new multibeam bathymetry and high-resolution sparker seismic data in Passage Canal, and we examined bathymetry changes before and after the earthquake. The data reveal the debris flow deposit from the 1964 landslides, which covers the western 5 km of the fjord bottom. Individual blocks in the flow are up to 145-m wide and 25-m tall. Bathymetry changes show the mass transfer deposits originated from the fjord head and Whittier Creek deltas and had a volume of about 42 million m3. The 1964 deposit has an average thickness of ∼5.4 m. Beyond the debris flow, the failures likely deposited a ∼4.6-m thick megaturbidite in a distal basin. We have studied the 1964 submarine landslides in three fjords. All involved failure of the fjord-head delta. All failures eroded basin-floor sediments and incorporated them as they travelled. All the failures deposited blocks, but their size and travel distances varied greatly. We find a correlation between maximum block size and maximum tsunami run-up regardless of the volume of the slides. Lastly, the fjord’s margins were influenced by increased supply of glacial sediments during the little ice age, which along with a long interseismic interval (∼900 years) may have caused the 1964 earthquake to produce particularly numerous and large submarine landslides.


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Submarine Mass Movements and Their Consequences: 6th International Symposium is volume 37 of the Advances in Natural and Technological Hazards Research series.