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Tsunami impact to Washington and northern Oregon from segment ruptures on the southern Cascadia subduction zone


This paper explores the size and arrival of tsunamis in Oregon and Washington from the most likely partial ruptures of the Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ) in order to determine (1) how quickly tsunami height declines away from sources, (2) evacuation time before significant inundation, and (3) extent of felt shaking that would trigger evacuation. According to interpretations of offshore turbidite deposits, the most frequent partial ruptures are of the southern CSZ. Combined recurrence of ruptures extending ~490 km from Cape Mendocino, California, to Waldport, Oregon (segment C) and ~320 km from Cape Mendocino to Cape Blanco, Oregon (segment D), is ~530 years. This recurrence is similar to frequency of full-margin ruptures on the CSZ inferred from paleoseismic data and to frequency of the largest distant tsunami sources threatening Washington and Oregon, ~M w 9.2 earthquakes from the Gulf of Alaska. Simulated segment C and D ruptures produce relatively low-amplitude tsunamis north of source areas, even for extreme (20 m) peak slip on segment C. More than ~70 km north of segments C and D, the first tsunami arrival at the 10-m water depth has an amplitude of <1.9 m. The largest waves are trapped edge waves with amplitude ≤4.2 m that arrive ≥2 h after the earthquake. MM V–VI shaking could trigger evacuation of educated populaces as far north as Newport, Oregon for segment D events and Grays Harbor, Washington for segment C events. The NOAA and local warning systems will be the only warning at greater distances from sources.

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Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries


Cascadia subduction zone


Mean higher high water


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


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This investigation was supported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Grants NA08NWS4670028 and #NA09NWS4670014. Some simulations used in this paper were conducted using computational facilities at the College of William and Mary which were provided with the assistance of the National Science Foundation, the Virginia Port Authority, and Virginia’s Commonwealth Technology Research Fund, and also using the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE; Grant #TG-CCR120029), which is supported by National Science Foundation grant number OCI-1053575.

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Correspondence to George R. Priest.

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Priest, G.R., Zhang, Y., Witter, R.C. et al. Tsunami impact to Washington and northern Oregon from segment ruptures on the southern Cascadia subduction zone. Nat Hazards 72, 849–870 (2014).

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  • Tsunami
  • Cascadia
  • Segment ruptures
  • Warning
  • Earthquake