Seismic precursors to a 2017 Nuugaatsiaq, Greenland, earthquake–landslide–tsunami event

  • Rhett ButlerEmail author
Original Paper


High-frequency (5–20 Hz) seismic signals precursory to and embedded within the June 17, 2017 ML = 4 earthquake–landslide event are analyzed. This event in western Greenland generated a tsunami in Karrat fjord inundating Nuugaatsiaq village 32 km distant. Spectrogram and wavelet analyses of seismic data from the Greenland Ice Sheet Monitoring Network (GLISN) corroborate observations of seismic precursors at Nuugaatsiaq reported by Poli (Geophys Res Lett 44:8832–8836, 2017) and Caplan-Auerbach (in: AGU fall meeting abstracts, 2017) and reveal additional high-frequency arrivals being generated after the apparent initiation of fault rupture. New observations of seismic precursors 181 km from the Event at Upernavik, Greenland are correlated with those seen at Nuugaatsiaq. Wavelet analysis presents > 100 significant energy peaks accelerating up to and into the earthquake–landslide event. The precursor events show a distinct, power law distribution, characterized by b values of ~ 2.4. Results are compared and contrasted with small precursors observed in the studies of a natural chalk cliff landslide at Mesnil-Val, Haute Normandie, France. The earthquake–landslide appears to have been initiated by seismic precursors located at the fault scarp, leading to a small seismic foreshock and small landslide initiation, followed by a larger earthquake at the fault scarp, precipitating the primary landslide into the Karrat Fjord, which caused the subsequent tsunami.


Greenland Seismic precursors Wavelet analysis Earthquake–landslide–tsunami 



I thank the operators of the GLISN and the GSN for free and open data access from seismic stations in Greenland. I thank John Clinton at ETH Zurich and both Tine Larsen and Trine Dahl-Jensen at GEUS Denmark for correspondence regarding their observations of the Event. HIGP contribution number 2369. SOEST contribution number 10642.

Data statement

All seismic data utilized are available from the IRIS Data Management System. Data from NUUG following the tsunami inundation and consequent power/communications disruption came from John Clinton at ETH Zurich. Earthquake catalog information comes via USGS (, GEUS (, and GEOFON (


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and PlanetologyUniversity of Hawai‘i at MānoaHonoluluUSA

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