Geo-Marine Letters

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 527–536 | Cite as

Recent paleoseismicity record in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA

  • Steven A. Kuehl
  • Eric J. Miller
  • Nicole R. Marshall
  • Timothy M. Dellapenna


Sedimentological and geochemical investigation of sediment cores collected in the deep (>400 m) central basin of Prince William Sound, along with geochemical fingerprinting of sediment source areas, are used to identify earthquake-generated sediment gravity flows. Prince William Sound receives sediment from two distinct sources: from offshore (primarily Copper River) through Hinchinbrook Inlet, and from sources within the Sound (primarily Columbia Glacier). These sources are found to have diagnostic elemental ratios indicative of provenance; Copper River Basin sediments were significantly higher in Sr/Pb and Cu/Pb, whereas Prince William Sound sediments were significantly higher in K/Ca and Rb/Sr. Within the past century, sediment gravity flows deposited within the deep central channel of Prince William Sound have robust geochemical (provenance) signatures that can be correlated with known moderate to large earthquakes in the region. Given the thick Holocene sequence in the Sound (~200 m) and correspondingly high sedimentation rates (>1 cm year−1), this relationship suggests that sediments within the central basin of Prince William Sound may contain an extraordinary high-resolution record of paleoseismicity in the region.


210Pb Sediment Accumulation Rate Silt Layer Excess 210Pb Outburst Flood 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Partial funding of the field work conducted for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation OCE-1241185 (PI: Kuehl). The manuscript was substantially improved by thorough and insightful reviews by L. Liberty and an anonymous reviewer.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare there is no conflict of interest with third parties.

Supplementary material

367_2017_505_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (249 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 248 kb)


  1. Adams J (1990) Paleoseismicity of the Cascadia subdution zone: evidence from turbidites off the Oregon-Washington margin. Tectonics 9:569–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barclay DJ, Wiles GC, Calkin PE (2009) Holocene glacier fluctuations in Alaska. Quaternary Science Reviews 28:2034–2048CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barclay DJ, Yager EM, Graves J, Kloczko M, Calkin PE (2013) Late Holocene glacial history of the Copper River Delta, coastal south-central Alaska, and controls on valley glacier fluctuations. Quaternary Science Reviews 81:74–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brothers DS, Haeussler PJ, Liberty L, Finlayson D, Geist E, Labay K, Byerly M (2016) A submarine landslide source for the devastating 1964 Chenega tsunami, southern Alaska. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 438:112–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carlson PR, Bruns TR, Molnia BF, Schwab WC (1982) Submarine valleys in the northeastern Gulf of Alaska: characteristics and probable origin. Marine Geology 47:217–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carlson PR, Molnia BF (1978) Minisparker profiles and sedimentologic data from the R/V “Acona” cruise (April 1976) in the Gulf of Alaska and Prince William Sound. United States Geological Survey Open-File Report 78–381Google Scholar
  7. Carver G, Plafker G (2008) Paleoseismicity and neotectonics of the Aleutian subduction zone - an overview. In: Freymueller J, Haeussler P, Wesson R, Ekström G (eds) Active tectonics and seismic potential of Alaska, AGU, Geophysical monograph series, vol, vol 179, pp 43–64Google Scholar
  8. Coulter HW, Migliaccio RR (1966) Effects of the earthquake of March 27, 1964, at Valdez, Alaska. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 542-CGoogle Scholar
  9. Cutshall N, Larsen I, Olsen C (1983) Direct analysis of 210Pb in sediment samples: self-absorption corrections. Nuclear Instruments Methods 206:309–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Doser DI, Brown WA (2001) A study of historic earthquakes of the Prince William Sound, Alaska region. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 91:842–857CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Engdahl E, Villaseñor A (2002) Global seismicity: 1900-1999. International Handbook of Earthquake and Engineering Seismology, vol 81(A):665–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Feely R, Baker E, Schumacher J, Massoth G, Landing W (1979) Processes affecting the distribution and transport of suspended matter in the northeast Gulf of Alaska. Deep Sea Research 26(A):445–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Finn S, Liberty L, Haeussler P, Pratt T (2015) Landslides and megathrust splay faults captured by the late Holocene sediment record of eastern Prince William Sound, Alaska. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 105(5):2343–2353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flemming BW, Delafontaine MT (2000) Mass physical properties of muddy intertidal sediments: some applications, misapplications and non-applications. Continental Shelf Research 20:1179–1197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Freymueller JT, Woodard H, Cohen SC, Cross R, Elliott J, Larsen CF, Hreinsdottir S, Zweck C (2008) Active deformation processes in Alaska, based on 15 years of GPS measurements. In: Freymueller JT, Haeussler PJ, Wesson RL, Ekstrom G (eds) active tectonics and seismic potential of Alaska. American Geophysical Union, Geophys Monogr 179:1–42Google Scholar
  16. Goldfinger C, Morey A, Black B, Beeson J, Nelson C, Patton J (2013) Spatially limited mud turbidites on the Cascadia margin: segmented earthquake ruptures? Natural Hazards Earth System Sci 13:2109–2146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goldfinger C, Nelson C, Morey A, Johnson J, Patton J, Karabanov E, Gutierrez-Pastor J, Eriksson A, Gracia E, Dunhill G, Enkin R, Dallimore A, Vallier T (2012) Turbidite event history - methods and implications for Holocene paleoseismicity of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. United States Geologic Survey Professional Paper 1661-FGoogle Scholar
  18. Greenland L, Lovering JF (1966) Fractionation of fluorine, chlorine and other trace elements during differentiation of a tholeiitic magma. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 30:963–982CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Haeussler PJ, Parsons T, Finlayson DP, Hart PE, Chaytor JD (2014) New imaging of submarine landslides from the 1964 earthquake near Whittier, Alaska, and a comparison to failures in other Alaskan fjords. Natural Technol Hazards Res 37:361–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Halverson M, Belanger C, Gay S (2013) Seasonal transport variations in the straits connecting Prince William Sound to the Gulf of Alaska. Continental Shelf Research 63:S63–S78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jaeger JM, Nittrouer CA, Scott ND, Milliman JD (1998) Sediment accumulation along a glacially impacted mountainous coastline: north-east Gulf of Alaska. Basin Research 10:155–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kachadoorian R (1965) Effects of the earthquake of March 27, 1964, at Whittier, Alaska. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 542-BGoogle Scholar
  23. Koehler RD (2013) Quaternary faults and folds (QFF): Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys Digital Data Series 3. doi: 10.14509/qff & doi: 10.14509/24956
  24. Krimmel R (2001) Photogrammetric data set, 1957–2000, and bathymetric measurements for Columbia Glacier, Alaska. United States Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 01–4089Google Scholar
  25. Liberty L, Finn S (2013) Near surface expression of megathrust splay faults, Prince William Sound area, Alaska. United States Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program Final Report for Award #G11AP20143.
  26. Marshall NR (2015) Signature of recent sediment accumulating in Prince William Sound, Alaska: a record of storms, earthquakes and seasonal inputs. MSc Thesis, College of William and MaryGoogle Scholar
  27. Meier M, Rasmussen L, Miller D (1985) Columbia Glacier in 1984: disintegration underway. United States Geological Survey Open-File Report 85–81Google Scholar
  28. Muratli JM, McManus J, Mix A, Chase Z (2012) Dissolution of fluoride complexes following microwave-assisted hydrofluoric acid digestion of marine sediments. Talanta 89:195–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nittrouer C, Sternberg R, Carpenter R, Bennett J (1979) The use of Pb-210 geochronology as a sedimentological tool: application to the Washington continental shelf. Marine Geology 31:297–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Plafker G (1965) Tectonic deformation associated with the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Science 148:1675–1687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Plafker G, Mayo L (1965) Tectonic deformation, subaqueous slides and destructive waves associated with the Alaskan March 27, 1964 earthquake; an interim geologic evaluation. United States Geological Survey Open-File ReportGoogle Scholar
  32. Plafker G, Thatcher W (2008) Geological and geophysical evaluation of the mechanisms of the Great 1899 Yakutat Bay Earthquakes. In: Freymueller JT, Haeussler PJ, Wesson RL, Ekström G (eds) Active tectonics and seismic potential of Alaska. American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C. doi: 10.1029/179GM12
  33. Richter T, van der Gaast S, Koster B, Vaars A, Gieles R, Stigter H, Haas H, van Weering T (2006) The Avaatech XRF Core scanner: technical description and applications to NE Atlantic sediments. Geological Society of London, Special Publication 267:39–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ryan HF, Lee HJ, Haeussler PJ, Alexander CR, Kayen RE (2010) Historic and paleo-submarine landslide deposits imaged beneath port Valdez, Alaska; implications for tsunami generation in a glacial fjord. Adv Natural Technol Hazards Res 28:411–421Google Scholar
  35. Ryan H, von Huene R, Wells R, Scholl D, Kirby S, Draut A (2011) History of earthquakes and tsunamis along the eastern Aleutian-Alaska megathrust, with implications for tsunami hazards in the California continental borderland. United States Geologic Survey Professional Paper 1795-AGoogle Scholar
  36. Shennan I, Bruhn R, Barlow N, Good K, Hocking E (2014) Late Holocene great earthquakes in the eastern part of the Aleutian megathrust. Quaternary Science Reviews 84:86–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stocks D (1996) Prince William Sound, Alaska: distal depocenter for Copper River sediment. BSc Thesis, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VirginiaGoogle Scholar
  38. USGS (2012) Analyses reported by the National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) Hydrogeochemical and Stream Sediment Reconnaissance (HSSR) program.
  39. Wang Y, Xue H, Chai F, Chao Y, Farrara J (2014) A model study of the Copper River plume and its effects on the northern Gulf of Alaska. Ocean Dynamics 64:241–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Winkler G (2000) A geologic guide to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska: a tectonic collage of northbound terranes. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 1616Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven A. Kuehl
    • 1
  • Eric J. Miller
    • 1
  • Nicole R. Marshall
    • 1
  • Timothy M. Dellapenna
    • 2
  1. 1.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceGloucester PointUSA
  2. 2.Texas A&M UniversityGalvestonUSA

Personalised recommendations