Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 168, Issue 6–7, pp 1053–1074 | Cite as

Combined Effects of Tectonic and Landslide-Generated Tsunami Runup at Seward, Alaska During the M W 9.2 1964 Earthquake

  • Elena Suleimani
  • Dmitry J. Nicolsky
  • Peter J. Haeussler
  • Roger Hansen


We apply a recently developed and validated numerical model of tsunami propagation and runup to study the inundation of Resurrection Bay and the town of Seward by the 1964 Alaska tsunami. Seward was hit by both tectonic and landslide-generated tsunami waves during the \(M_{\rm W}\) 9.2 1964 megathrust earthquake. The earthquake triggered a series of submarine mass failures around the fjord, which resulted in landsliding of part of the coastline into the water, along with the loss of the port facilities. These submarine mass failures generated local waves in the bay within 5 min of the beginning of strong ground motion. Recent studies estimate the total volume of underwater slide material that moved in Resurrection Bay to be about 211 million m3 (Haeussler et al. in Submarine mass movements and their consequences, pp 269–278, 2007). The first tectonic tsunami wave arrived in Resurrection Bay about 30 min after the main shock and was about the same height as the local landslide-generated waves. Our previous numerical study, which focused only on the local landslide-generated waves in Resurrection Bay, demonstrated that they were produced by a number of different slope failures, and estimated relative contributions of different submarine slide complexes into tsunami amplitudes (Suleimani et al. in Pure Appl Geophys 166:131–152, 2009). This work extends the previous study by calculating tsunami inundation in Resurrection Bay caused by the combined impact of landslide-generated waves and the tectonic tsunami, and comparing the composite inundation area with observations. To simulate landslide tsunami runup in Seward, we use a viscous slide model of Jiang and LeBlond (J Phys Oceanogr 24(3):559–572, 1994) coupled with nonlinear shallow water equations. The input data set includes a high resolution multibeam bathymetry and LIDAR topography grid of Resurrection Bay, and an initial thickness of slide material based on pre- and post-earthquake bathymetry difference maps. For simulation of tectonic tsunami runup, we derive the 1964 coseismic deformations from detailed slip distribution in the rupture area, and use them as an initial condition for propagation of the tectonic tsunami. The numerical model employs nonlinear shallow water equations formulated for depth-averaged water fluxes, and calculates a temporal position of the shoreline using a free-surface moving boundary algorithm. We find that the calculated tsunami runup in Seward caused first by local submarine landslide-generated waves, and later by a tectonic tsunami, is in good agreement with observations of the inundation zone. The analysis of inundation caused by two different tsunami sources improves our understanding of their relative contributions, and supports tsunami risk mitigation in south-central Alaska. The record of the 1964 earthquake, tsunami, and submarine landslides, combined with the high-resolution topography and bathymetry of Resurrection Bay make it an ideal location for studying tectonic tsunamis in coastal regions susceptible to underwater landslides.


Tsunami runup inundation numerical modeling 1964 Alaska Earthquake submarine landslides Resurrection Bay Seward 



This study was supported by NOAA grants 27-014d and 06-028a through Cooperative Institute for Arctic Research. We thank Prof. Efim Pelinovsky and one anonymous reviewer for helpful suggestions that improved this manuscript. Dr. Alexander Rabinovich gave us a number of critical comments and valuable recommendations that we greatly appreciate. The authors also thank Eric Geist and Jason Chaytor for their thorough and constructive reviews. We are grateful to Prof. Jeff Freymueller for valuable discussions, and to Dr. Hisashi Suito for providing us with parameters of his model. Numerical calculations for this work are supported by a grant of High Performance Computing resources from the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as part of the US Department of Defense HPC Modernization Program.


  1. Barberopoulou A, Qamar A, Pratt T, Steele W (2006) Longperiod effects of the Denali earthquake on water bodies in the Puget Lowland: observations and modeling. Bull Seism Soc Am 96(2):519–535, doi: 10.1785/0120050090
  2. Bornhold B, Thomson R, Rabinovich A, Kulikov E, Fine I (2001) Risk of landslide-generated tsunamis for the coast of British Columbia and Alaska. In: 2001 An Earth Odyssey. Proceedings of the Canadian Geotechnical Conference, pp 1450–1454Google Scholar
  3. Carver G, Plafker G (2008) Paloseismicity and neotectonics of the Aleutian subduction zone—an overview. In: Freymueller J, Haeussler P, Wesson R, Ekström G (eds) Acive tectonics and seismic potential of Alaska, AGU, Washington, DC, Geophysical Monograph Series 179, pp 43–63Google Scholar
  4. Christensen D, Beck S (1994) The rupture process and tectonic implications of the Great 1964 Prince William Sound earthquake. Pure Appl Geophys 142(1):29–53Google Scholar
  5. Fine I, Rabinovich A, Kulikov E, Thomson R, Bornhold B (1998) Numerical modelling of landslide-generated tsunamis with application to the Skagway Harbor tsunami of November 3, 1994. In: Proc. Int. Conf. on Tsunamis, Paris, pp 211–223Google Scholar
  6. Fine I, Rabinovich A, Thomson R, Kulikov E (2003) Numerical modeling of tsunami generation by submarine and subaerial landslides. In: Yalciner A, Pelinovsky E, Okal E, Synolakis C (eds) Submarine Landslides and Tsunamis, Kluwer, pp 69–88Google Scholar
  7. Geist E (2002) Complex earthquake rupture and local tsunamis. J Geophys Res 107(B5):1–16Google Scholar
  8. Haeussler P, Lee H, Ryan H, Labay K, Kayen R, Hampton M, Suleimani E (2007) Submarine slope failures near Seward, Alaska, during the M9.2 1964 earthquake. In: Lykousis V, Sakellariou D, Locat J (eds) Submarine Mass Movements and their consequences, pp 269–278Google Scholar
  9. Hampton M, Lee H, Locat J (1996) Submarine landslides. Rev Geophys 34:33–59Google Scholar
  10. Harbitz C, Løvholt F, Pedersen G, Masson D (2006) Mechanisms of tsunami generation by submarine landslides: a short review. Norwegian Journal of Geology 86:255–264Google Scholar
  11. Holdahl S, Sauber J (1994) Coseismic slip in the 1964 Prince William sound earthquake: A new geodetic inversion. Pure Appl Geophys 142:55–82Google Scholar
  12. Ichinose G, Somerville P, Thio H, Graves R, O’Connell D (2007) Rupture process of the 1964 Prince William sound, Alaska, earthquake from the combined inversion of seismic, tsunami, and geodetic data. J Geophys Res 112(B07306)Google Scholar
  13. Jiang L, LeBlond P (1992) The coupling of a submarine slide and the surface waves which it generates. J Geophys Res 97(C8):12731–12744Google Scholar
  14. Jiang L, LeBlond P (1993) Numerical modeling of an underwater Bingham plastic mudslide and the waves which it generates. J Geophys Res 98(C6):10303–10317Google Scholar
  15. Jiang L, LeBlond P (1994) Three-dimensional modeling of tsunami generation due to a submarine mudslide. J Phys Oceanogr 24(3):559–572Google Scholar
  16. Johnson J, Satake K, Holdahl SR, Sauber J (1996) The 1964 Prince William sound earthquake: Joint inversion of tsunami and geodetic data. J Geophys Res 101:523–532Google Scholar
  17. Kulikov E, Rabinovich A, Fine I, Bornhold B, Thomson R (1998) Tsunami generation by landslides at the Pacific coast of North America and the role of tides. Oceanology 38(3):361–367Google Scholar
  18. Labay K, Haeussler P (2008) Combined high-resolution LIDAR topography and multibeam bathymetry for upper Resurrection Bay, Seward, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Digital Data Series 374, http://pubs/
  19. Lander J (1996) Tsunamis affecting Alaska. 1737–1996. No. 31 in NGDC Key to Geophysical Research, National Geophysical Data Center, Boulder, Colo.Google Scholar
  20. Larsen C, Echelmeyer K, Freymueller J, Motyka R (2003) Tide gauge records of uplift along the northern pacific-north american plate boundary, 1937 to 2001. J Geophys Res 108(B4):2216, doi: 10.1029/2001JB001685
  21. Lee H, Schwab W, Booth J (2002) Submarine landslides: an introduction. In: Schwab W, Lee H, Twichell D (eds) Submarine Landslides: Selected Studies in the US Exclusive Economic Zone, US Geological Survey Bulletin, pp 1–13Google Scholar
  22. Lee H, Ryan H, Kayen R, Haeussler P, Dartnell P, Hampton M (2006) Varieties of submarine failure morphologies of seismically-induced landslides in Alaska fjords. Norwegian Journal of Geology 86:221–230Google Scholar
  23. Lemke R (1967) Effects of the Earthquake of March 27, 1964, at Seward, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 542-E, 48 pp.Google Scholar
  24. Liu K, Mei C (1989) Slow spreading of a sheet of Bingham fluid on an inclined plane. J Fluid Mech 207:505–529Google Scholar
  25. Marchuk GI, Kuznetsov YA, Matsokin AM (1986) Fictitious domain and domain decomposition methods. Sov J Numer Anal Math Modelling 1:3–35Google Scholar
  26. Masson D, Harbitz C, Wynn R, Pedersen G, Løvholt F (2006) Submarine landslides: processes, triggers and hazard prediction. Phil Trans R Soc A 364:2009–2039, doi: 10.1098/rsta.2006.1810
  27. Mei C, Liu K (1987) A Bingham-plastic model for a muddy seabed under long waves. J Geophys Res 92(C13):14581–14594Google Scholar
  28. Myers E, Baptista A (2001) Analysis of factors influencing simulations of the 1993 Hokkaido Nansei-Oki and 1964 Alaska tsunamis. Nat Hazards 23:1–28Google Scholar
  29. Nicolsky D, Suleimani E, Hansen R (2010) Validation and verification of a numerical model for tsunami propagation and runup. Pure Appl Geophys. doi: 10.1007/s00024-010-0231-9
  30. Nishenko S, Jacob K (1990) Seismic potential of the Queen Charlotte-Alaska-Aleutian seismic zone. J Geophys Res 95(B3):2511–2532Google Scholar
  31. Okada Y (1985) Surface deformation due to shear and tensile faults in a half-space. Bull Seism Soc Am 75:1135–1154Google Scholar
  32. Page R, Biswas N, Lahr J, Pulpan H (1991) Seismicity of continental Alaska. In: Slemmons D, Engdahl E, Zoback M, Blackwell D (eds) Neotectonics of North America, Boulder, Colorado, Geol. Soc. Am., Decade Map V. 1, pp 47–68Google Scholar
  33. Pelinovsky E, Poplavsky A (1996) Simplified model of tsunami generation by submarine landslides. Phys Chem Earth 21(12):13–17Google Scholar
  34. Plafker G (1967) Surface faults on Montague Island associated with the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 543-G, 42 pp.Google Scholar
  35. Plafker G (1969) Tectonics of the March 27, 1964 Alaska Earthquake. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 543-I, 74 pp.Google Scholar
  36. Plafker G (2006) The great 1964 Alaska Earthquake as a model for tsunami generation during megathrust earthquakes with examples form Chile and Sumatra. Abstracts of the AGU Chapman Conference on the Active Tectonics and Seismic Potential of AlaskaGoogle Scholar
  37. Plafker G, Kachadoorian R, Eckel E, Mayo L (1969) Effects of the Earthquake of March 27, 1964 on various communities. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 542-G, 50 pp.Google Scholar
  38. Rabinovich AB, Thomson RE, Bornhold BD, Fine IV, Kulikov EA (2003) Numerical modelling of tsunamis generated by hypothetical landslides in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia. Pure Appl Geophys 160(7):1273–1313Google Scholar
  39. Santini S, Dragoni M, Spada G (2003) Asperity distribution of the 1964 Great Alaska earthquake and its relation to subsequent seismicity in the region. Tectonophysics 367:219–233, doi: 10.1016/S0040-1951(03)00130-6
  40. Shannon W, Hilts D (1973) Submarine landslide at Seward. In: The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964. Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., pp 144–156Google Scholar
  41. Shennan I, Bruhn R, Plafker G (2009) Multi-segment earthquakes and tsunami potential of the Aleuatian megathrust. Quaternary Science Reviews 28:7–13Google Scholar
  42. Spaeth M, Berkman S (1972) Tsunami of March 28, 1964, as recorded at tide stations and the Seismic Sea Waves Warning System. In: The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964. Oceanography and Coastal Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., pp 38–100Google Scholar
  43. Suito H, Freymueller J (2009) A viscoelastic and afterslip postseismic deformation model for the 1964 Alaska earthquake. J Geophys Res 114(B11404), doi: 10.1029/2008JB005954
  44. Suleimani E, Ruppert N, Fisher M, West D, Hansen R (2008) The contribution of coseismic displacements due to spaly faults into the local wavefiled of the 1964 Alaska tsunami. In: Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., vol 89(53), abstract OS43D-1334Google Scholar
  45. Suleimani E, Hansen R, Haeussler P (2009) Numerical study of tsunami generated by multiple submarine slope failures in Resurrection Bay, Alaska, during the M9.2 1964 earthquake. Pure Appl Geophys 166:131–152, doi: 10.1007/s00024-004-0430-3
  46. Synolakis C, Bernard E, Titov V, Kânoğlu U, González F (2007) Standards, criteria, and procedures for noaa evaluation of tsunami numerical models. NOAA Tech. Memo. OAR PMEL-135, NTIS: PB2007-109601, NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, WA, 55 pp.Google Scholar
  47. Synolakis C, Bernard E, Titov V, Kânoğlu U, González F (2008) Validation and verification of tsunami numerical models. Pure Appl Geophys 165:2197–2228Google Scholar
  48. Thomson RE, Rabinovich AB, Kulikov EA, Fine IV, Bornhold BD (2001) On numerical simulation of the landslide-generated tsunami of November 3, 1994 in Skagway Harbor, Alaska. In: Hebenstreit GT (ed) Tsunami Research at the End of a Critical Decade, Kluwer, pp 243–282Google Scholar
  49. Titov V, Gonzalez F (2001) Numerical study of the source of the July 17, 1998 PNG tsunami. In: Hebenstreit GT (ed) Tsunami Research at the End of a Critical Decade, Kluwer, pp 197–207Google Scholar
  50. Wilson B, Tørum A (1968) The tsunami of the Alaskan Earthquake, 1964: Engineering evaluation. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Technical memorandum No. 25, 401 p.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elena Suleimani
    • 1
  • Dmitry J. Nicolsky
    • 1
  • Peter J. Haeussler
    • 2
  • Roger Hansen
    • 1
  1. 1.Geophysical InstituteUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.USGS, Alaska Science CenterAnchorageUSA

Personalised recommendations