In 1996 we began investigating the paleoseismic history of the Cascadia margin based on turbidite records. The possibility that a good earthquake record existed along the margin had been suggested in the late 1960's, and proposed formally in 1990 by John Adams. We conducted our first major cruise to test this hypothesis in 1999 aboard the R/V Melville. We have published several papers since then that expore in detail the realtionship between great earthquakes and turbidite stratigraphy in Cascadia.
One of the things that can be addressed with very long paleoseismic records is models of recurrence of great earthquakes. Sicne the 1970's, investigators have sought models to explain the fundamental recurence patters of earthquakes, with limited success. With the great earthquake recurrence pattern now established in Cascadia, it is worth revisiting the idea of recurrence models to see if patterns emerge from the record that cannot be explained by random occurrence.
A large number of co-investigators, students, technicians and ships crew have been involved in this project since 2002, including: Chris Goldfinger, C. Hans Nelson Joel E. Johnson, Ann E. Morey, Julia Gutiérrez-Pastor, Eugene Karabanov, Andrew T. Eriksson, Eulàlia Gràcia, Gita Dunhill, Jason Patton, Michaele Kashgarian, John Southon, Pete Kalk, Chris Moser, Bob Wilson, Jeff Beeson, Kelly Grijalva, Roland Bürgmann, and the officers and crews of the R/V Melville and R/V Revelle and the Shipboard Scientific Parties
Superquakes and Supercycles
The recent 2011 Mw=9.0 Tohoku Japan, and the 2004 Mw=9.15 Sumatra-Andaman superquakes have humbled many in earthquake research. Neither region was thought capable of earthquakes exceeding Mw~8.4. Appealing proposed relationships to predict the size of earthquakes in subduction zones such as that between earthquake magnitude and parameters such as lower plate age and convergence rate (Ruff and Kanamori, 1980) and plate coupling based on anchored slabs (Scholz and Campos, 1995), at least have many exceptions, and may not be valid. Both earthquakes occurred where the subducting plate edge was quite old, ~ 50-130 my. The role of thick sediments smoothing the plate interface and maximizing rupture area has been considered a contributing factor, and seems influence many recent great earthquakes (Ruff, 1989). The Tohoku event is also contrary to this hypothesis. Clearly much remains to be learned about these great events, so much so that most previous estimates of maximum earthquake size in subduction plate boundaries should be considered suspect, and perhaps other fault systems as well (McCaffrey, 2007, 2008).
Our perspective on this issue is clearly hampered by short historical and even shorter instrumental records. The examples noted above indicate that basing estimations of maximum earthquake size or models of earthquake recurrence on such short-term records alone clearly cannot encompass the range of fault behavior, even when historical records may be > 1000 years long as in Japan. Here we present several examples of areas where long geologic and paleoseismic records can illuminate a much wider range of seismic behaviors than those deduced from historical and instrumental data, and speculate on models of long-term fault behavior based on very long records.
NORTHEAST JAPAN TRENCH
Since Pliocene time, the Japan arc has been subjected to east-west compression due principally to the westward convergence of the Pacific plate at the Japan Trench at a rate of 70 mm/yr. (DeMets et al., 2010). Normal faults, likely resulting from Miocene back-arc spreading, have been reactivated in Plio-Quaternary time as thrust faults due to the change in regional stress fields from tension to E-W compression. Geologic constraints indicate this upper-plate compression is only a small fraction of the overall total convergence between Japan and the Pacific plate. The geodetically observed, short-term deformation rate within the Northeast Japan arc is, however, significantly larger than the long-term deformation. Triangulation, trilateration and GPS observations during the last ~100 years revealed that the Japan arc has contracted in an east-west direction at a rate as high as several tens of mm/yr. (Hashimoto, 1990; Suwa et al., 2006; Sagiya et al., 2000). This rate is nearly one order of magnitude greater than geologically observed shortening rates, and is comparable to the ~ 83 mm/yr rate of plate convergence at the Japan Trench (Fig. 1). Similarly, there is a contrast between recent rapid coastal subsidence and the long-term evidence of terrace uplift along the Pacific coast of NE Japan. Tide gauge data indicate abnormally high rates (several to 10 mm/yr) of subsidence during the last ~80 years (Kato, 1983). This subsidence is likely due to strong coupling dragging down the upper plate by the subducting Pacific plate beneath the Japan arc. However, late Quaternary marine terraces developing along the Pacific coast indicate uplift at 0.1-0.4 mm/yr. (Koike and Machida, 2001). The discrepancy between short-term (geodetic) and long-term (geologic) observations indicates that most of the strain accumulating in the last ~100 years has been elastic, to be released by slip in large earthquakes on the subducting plate boundary. Although large thrust-type earthquakes with magnitude 7-8.4 have occurred at the Japan Trench during the last 100 years, they did not result in significant strain release on land. Thus, larger slip events are required to occur at intervals much longer than the period (~100 years) of instrumental observations (Ikeda, 2003, 2005). The recent Tohoku-oki Mw =9.0 earthquake was such a slip event with a slip based on submarine GPS of~ 24m (Sato, 2011), and slips greater than 50 m near the toe of the accretionary prism (e.g. Fujiwara et al., 2012); its rupture area encompassed those of numerous previous earthquakes of magnitude 7-8.4.
The most recent earthquakes in the Sendai area: 1933 (M 8.1), 1936 (M 7.5), and 1978 (Mw 7.6) did not leave a tsunami record in nearby Suijin-numa, a coastal lake (Sawai et al., 2008), nor did they leave extensive sand sheets on the Sendai Plain (Minoura et al., 2001). However, the older historical record in the Tohoku region in Japan includes a number of large earthquakes and associated tsunami, including large events in 869, 1611 and 1896. The largest of these events was likely the 869 Jogan tsunami based on the presence of tsunami deposits in the coastal lake (Sawai et al., 2008), the 3-4 km landward extent of inundation relative to the paleo-shoreline (Sawai et al., 2007; Shishikura et al., 2008; Sugawara et al., 2012) and tsunami modeling (Namegaya et al., 2010). ). The paleotsunami evidence also includes two predecessors to the Jogan event that also penetrated ~ 4 km inland (though in Jogan time the shoreline was ~ 1 km west of present). These large tsunami support the existence of periodic outsized earthquakes (Mw~ 9) along the Tohoku coast. The recurrence times are between 800 and1200 years, with numerous smaller events between that make up the majority of the historical record (Sawai et al., 2008; Shishikura et al., 2007).
Figure 1. (Left) Map showing recent vertical crustal movements and source areas of large interplate earthquakes. Blue line contours indicate rates of uplift (in mm/yr) revealed by tide gauge observations during the period 1955-1981 (Kato, 1983). Orange lines indicate source areas of interplate earthquakes of Mw > 7 since 1896. The epicenter and source area of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake of Mw 9.0 are indicated by an asterisk and orange shade, respectively NFM = Northern Fossa Magna. Open squares indicate tide-gauge stations; station numbers correspond to those in the right figure. (Right) Selected tide-gauge records along the Pacific coast (Geographical Information Authority, 2010). See the left figure for location. Red arrows indicate large earthquakes (Mw > 7.0) that occurred near each station. Note progressive subsidence of the Pacific coast at rates as high as 5-10 mm/yr, except for the Onahama station, which has likely been affected by coal mining.
In Cascadia, several decades of paleoseismic work have yielded an unprecedented record of great earthquakes. Pioneering work (Atwater, 1987) established the repeated occurrence of great earthquakes and tsunami along the Washington coast, followed by widespread evidence of subsidence and tsunami from coastal sediments along the entire margin from Canada to northern California (Atwater et al., 1997; 2004, Kelsey et al., 2005; Clague and Bobrowsky, 1994). The longest records available, those from deep-sea turbidites, reveal the complex behavior of this subduction zone over the past 10,000 years (Goldfinger et al., 2012). The offshore records are in good agreement with onshore paleoseismology where temporal overlap exists (variable from 3500-4600 years BP), and both offer consistent information about the relative size of paleoearthquakes, giving confidence that both are recording the same phenomenon (Goldfinger et al., 2012). The longer records reveal several important features not discernible with shorter records. One is that there is apparent clustering of the larger (rupture lengths greater than 600 km, Mw~ 8.7-9.0) events into groups of 4-5 events, with 700-1200 year gaps between the clusters (Goldfinger et al., 2012). Another is significant segmentation of the margin, with a group of shorter ruptures limited to southern Cascadia that are interspersed between the long ruptures as determined by intersite stratigraphic correlation (Goldfinger et al., 2008; 2012 their Fig. 55).
Goldfinger et al. (2012) show that mass per event down core among four key Cascadia core sites is reasonably consistent among sites. They infer that the best explanation is that turbidite thickness and mass are linked to the relative levels of ground shaking in the source earthquakes. The magnitude of the AD 1700 earthquake is estimated to be ~ 9.0 based on tsunami inversion of the tsunami heights along the Japanese coast, and the attribution of this “orphan tsunami” to Cascadia (Satake et al., 2003). The 9.0 magnitude could change in the future with more sophisticated modeling, but still provides a benchmark for other paleoseismic events. The connection between earthquake size and turbidite size is tenuous; nevertheless, the correlation between size characteristics per event, among numerous cores along strike, strongly suggests a regional connection that can best be attributed to the magnitude or shaking intensity of the source earthquake ( Goldfinger et al., 2008, 2012). In the offshore turbidite record, the turbidite associated with the 1700 AD event is roughly “average’ in mass and thickness relative to 19 inferred similar ruptures as compared between core sites along the 1000 km Cascadia margin (Goldfinger et al., 2012). Significantly, there are several turbidites that are considerably larger in terms of thickness and mass in the 10,000 year offshore record. Notable are the 11th and 16th events back in time, known as T11 and T16, that took place 5960 +/- 140 and 8810 +/- 160 years ago (Fig. 3). These two turbidites are consistently larger at all core sites along the length of Cascadia, being an average of 2.9 times (range 2.8-3.1) the A.D. 1700 turbidite mass. At most sites, 4-7 other events in the 10 ky turbidite record, (typically including turbidites T5, T6, T7, T8, T9, T13 and T18) are also larger than the 1700 AD turbidite, though by smaller margins of 1.3-1.7 times the T1 turbidite mass (range 0.2-1.7). Goldfinger et al. (2012) estimate Mw for all 19 Cascadia ruptures of 600 km and greater using estimated rupture length, width and slip parameters calibrated to the AD 1700 event, and setting that event equal to 9.0. They estimate Mw for T11 and T16 to be ~9.1. The average mass increase in these two turbidites of 2.8 times the A.D. 1700 turbidite is roughly comparable to the energy increase of 1.4 times from Mw 9.0 to Mw 9.1. The event to event variability and consistency among sites are unlikely to be due to changes in sediment supply, oceanography, or other factors as they are replicated at numerous sites, including one (Hydrate Ridge) with no modern terriginous sediment supply. The outsized turbidites are unlikely to be due to a long prior sediment accumulation interval, as only T11 has such a prior interval (~ 1100 years interrupted by one small event), and because other events following ~ 1000 year gaps were not outsized in thickness or mass (T6 for example). These data suggest that significantly outsized earthquakes may occur at a rate of 1-2/10,000 years in Cascadia.
Uniquely, the 10 ky Holocene Cascadia earthquake generated turbidite stratigraphy affords uncommon opportunities to examine recurrence models, clustering and detailed long-term (10 ka) strain history of a subduction zone. First, in Cascadia, the two outsized superquakes do not appear to occur in an otherwise random sequence. Cascadia earthquakes appear to cluster, with the larger events that include much of the strike length of the margin occurring within groupings of 4-5 events that comprise four Holocene clusters. There appears to be a weak tendency to terminate these clusters with an outsized event. The long time series also suggests that Cascadia is neither time nor slip predictable (Goldfinger et al., 2012). Because there appears to be a connection between earthquake size and turbidite size among core sites and across a variety of depositional environments, an opportunity exists to investigate the earthquake pattern further. This inference comes from the observation that correlated turbidites along strike in Cascadia vary considerably in mass and thickness per event
at each site in the Holocene series, but that they are consistent in mass and thickness for the same event at multiple sites and multiple depositional environments as previously described (Goldfinger et al., 2012; e-supp. Fig. S4, Tables S4, S5 available as an electronic supplement to this paper). Because of this consistency for individual events along the margin, and despite the obvious simplifications involved, we infer that turbidite mass can be considered a crude proxy for seismic moment or intensity of ground shaking at offshore sites for at least the 19 larger ruptures of 600 km or greater described in Goldfinger et al. (2012).
If our assumption that energy release can be approximated by turbidite mass and thickness, we can then assemble and compare the Holocene series of earthquakes as a time series. First, we assume that while slip and moment of paleoearthquakes is unknown, that coseismic energy release may be modeled as proportional to the mass of turbidites triggered in seismic shaking. Second, we assume that plate convergence between earthquakes increases elastic strain energy in proportion to interevent time (a coupling coefficient of 1.0 is assumed but does not affect the outcome).To examine the energy balance between subduction earthquakes and accumulation of elastic strain, we scale turbidite mass (energy release) to balance plate convergence (energy gain) to generate a 10 ky energy time series for Cascadia (Fig. 4). We do not know the starting or ending values of course, thus we simply scale the plot such that the overall trend of the series has no net gain or loss of potential energy. The interval between the last earthquake and the next one is also unknown, and we set this equal to the average recurrence time. Sources of error also include the uncertainties in the radiocarbon ages for each event, which are taken from Goldfinger et al. (2012) and are shown on the plot. Both approximations undoubtedly comprise additional sources of error. The resulting sawtooth pattern reveals what we interpret as a complex pattern
of long-term energy cycling on the Cascadia megathrust, with the vertical scale representing potential energy. If correct, we can then make some observations about the long-term behavior of Cascadia. Earthquake clusters including small to large events appear to have significant variations in energy balance within and between the clusters. Cluster four (~10000-8800 BP) appears to maintain a relatively even energy state comprising several seismic cycles before falling to a low after large event T16. Cluster three (~8200-5800 BP) climbs steadily in energy state through multiple seismic cycles until falling sharply to a similar low following large event T11. Cluster two (~4800-2500 BP) climbs then falls to a low energy value after T6, which also precedes a long gap of ~1000 years, which then raises the energy state. Cluster one (~1600-300 BP) slowly declines from T5 to T1, the AD 1700 Mw~ 9.0 earthquake.
Overall, what is suggested by this pattern is that some events release less energy while others release more energy than available from plate convergence (slip deficit) and may have borrowed stored energy from previous cycles. This suggests that energy release in the earthquakes is not closely tied to recurrence intervals, that is, they are not obviously slip or time predictable, but the pattern of values suggests that it is not likely to be a Poisson process either. The highest energy states may result in either a very large earthquake, or a series of smaller earthquakes to relieve stress. A very low energy state may result in a long gap or in a series of smaller earthquakes with a net energy gain over time, something that also appears to describe NE Japan prior to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.
Figure 2. Cascadia supercycle model. Plot showing long-term energy cycling of the Cascadia megathrust, and complex behavior over time. Cascadia Holocene earthquake time series at four primary sites expressed as energy gain and loss per event. Energy gain is proportional to recurrence between events in years. Energy loss is proportional to the mass of turbidite samples, scaled to result in no net gain or loss of energy through the Holocene. Four primary sites are shown with envelope showing variability, and dashed line showing maximum variability including error. The four sites are pinned at large and consistent event T11 (~ 5900 cal BP) for comparison. Mass values are extracted from the gamma density curves, using as a baseline the mass values for each baseline pair of bounding hemipelagic layers. Mass values (dimensionless) are then DC scaled to yield no net change when plotted against recurrence interval in years. (see Ⓔ Fig. S6 in the electronic supplement for scale factors). Core compaction is partially compensated for by this method, though some unknown compaction error remains in this plot. Error ranges are OxCal (Ramsey, 2001) 2s ranges from Goldfinger et al. (2012) in the X axis (time), and an estimated maximum value of 10% error applied to the mass values that includes possible air gaps in the core liner, bioturbation if present within the turbidites (rare), measurement error, error in establishing the baseline for each turbidite, and digitizing error. Final event assumed to occur 500 years from last event at AD 1700, a value equal to the average recurrence time (Goldfinger et al., 2012). See Cascadia Turbidites for core locations and other information about the CAscadia earthquake record.
Goldfinger, C., Ikeda, Y., Yeats, R.S., and Ren, J., 2013, Superquakes and Supercycles, Seismological Research Letters, v. 84, no. 1, p. 24-32
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—, 2003, Holocene Earthquake Records From the Cascadia Subduction Zone and Northern San Andreas Fault Based on Precise Dating of Offshore Turbidites: Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, v. 31, p. 555-577.
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Goldfinger, C., Nelson, C.H., Morey, A., Johnson, J.E., Gutierrez-Pastor, J., Eriksson, A.T., Karabanov, E., Patton, J., Gracia, E., Enkin, R., Dallimore, A., Dunhill, G., and Vallier, T., 2012, Turbidite Event History: Methods and Implications for Holocene Paleoseismicity of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, USGS Professional Paper 1661-F, Reston, VA, U.S. Geological Survey, p. 184 p, 64 Figures. http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/pp1661f/ Appendices
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