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1700 Cascadia earthquake

The 1700 Cascadia earthquake occurred along the Cascadia subduction zone on January 26 with an estimated moment magnitude of 8.7–9.2.[1] The megathrust earthquake involved the Juan de Fuca Plate that underlies the Pacific Ocean, from mid-Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, south along the Pacific Northwest coast as far as northern California. The length of the fault rupture was about Script error: No such module "convert". with an average slip of Script error: No such module "convert"..

The earthquake caused a tsunami that struck the coast of Japan,[2] and may also be linked to the Bonneville Slide.[3]


Evidence supporting the occurrence of the 1700 earthquake has been gathered into the 2005 book The Orphan Tsunami of 1700, by Brian Atwater, Kenji Satake, David Yamaguchi, and others.

The evidence suggests that it took place at about 21:00 on January 26, 1700 (NS). Although there were no written records in the region at the time, the earthquake's precise time is nevertheless known from Japanese records of a tsunami that has not been tied to any other Pacific Rim earthquake. The most important clue linking the tsunami in Japan and the earthquake in the Pacific Northwest comes from studies of tree rings (dendrochronology), which show that red cedar trees killed by lowering of coastal forests into the tidal zone by the earthquake have outermost growth rings that formed in 1699, the last growing season before the tsunami. Local indigenous American oral traditions describing a large quake also exist, although these do not specify the date.[4] There are many areas in the Pacific Northwest with drowned groves of trees that also show evidence of the earthquake.

Future threats

Earthquake recurrence
est. year interval
1700 AD > 316
1310 AD 390
810 AD 500
400 AD 410
170 BC 570
600 BC 430

The geological record reveals that "great earthquakes" (those with moment magnitude 8 or higher) occur in the Cascadia subduction zone about every 500 years on average, often accompanied by tsunamis. There is evidence of at least 13 events at intervals from about 300 to 900 years with an average of 570–590 years.[5] Previous earthquakes are estimated to have occurred in 1310 AD, 810 AD, 400 AD, 170 BC and 600 BC.

File:Cascadia earthquake sources.png
Cascadia earthquake sources

As seen in the 1700 quake, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, subduction zone earthquakes can cause large tsunamis, and many coastal areas in the region have prepared tsunami evacuation plans in anticipation of a possible future Cascadia earthquake. However, the major nearby cities, notably Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Victoria, and Tacoma, which are located on inland waterways rather than on the coast, would be sheltered from the full brunt of a tsunami. These cities do have many vulnerable structures, especially bridges and unreinforced brick buildings; consequently, most of the damage to the cities would probably be from the earthquake itself. One expert asserts that buildings in Seattle are vastly inadequate even to withstand an earthquake of the size of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, much less the much greater one that may well occur.[6]

Recent findings conclude that the Cascadia subduction zone is more complex and volatile than previously believed. In 2010 geologists predicted a 37 percent chance of an M8.2+ event within 50 years, and a 10 to 15 percent chance that the entire Cascadia subduction zone will rupture with an M9+ event within the same time frame.[7] Geologists have also determined the Pacific Northwest is not prepared for such a colossal quake. The tsunami produced could reach heights of Script error: No such module "convert"..[8]

In 2004, a study conducted by the Geological Society of America analyzed the potential for relative mean sea level rise (cause by subsidence) along the Cascadia subduction zone. It postulated that cities on the West coast of Vancouver Island (e.g. Tofino and Ucluelet), are at risk for a 1–2m subsidence, relative to mean sea level.[9]

Some other subduction zones have such earthquakes every 100 to 200 years; the longer interval results from slower plate motions. The rate of convergence between the Juan de Fuca Plate and the North American Plate is Script error: No such module "convert". per year.[10]

See also


  1. "USGS Scientist Shows Evidence for 300-Year-Old Tsunami to Participants in International Tsunami Training Institute". Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 
  2. "The Orphan Tsunami of 1700—Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-05-06.  USGS Professional Paper 1707
  3. Hill, Richard L. (2002-05-15). "Great Cascadia Earthquake Penrose Conference". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on 2008-10-24. 
  5. Witter, Robert C.; Kelsey, Harvey M.; Hemphill-Haley, Eileen (October 2003). "Great Cascadia earthquakes and tsunamis of the past 6700 years, Coquille River estuary, southern coastal Oregon". Geological Society of America Bulletin (The Geological Society of America) 115 (10): 1289–1306. doi:10.1130/b25189.1. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  6. Yanev, Peter (27 March 2010). "Shake, Rattle, Seattle". The New York Times. p. WK11. 
  7. "Odds Are 1-In-3 That A Huge Quake Will Hit Northwest In Next 50 Years". Archived from the original on 27 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  8. "Perilous Situation". The Oregonian. 2009-04-19. Archived from the original on 23 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  9. "Coseismic subsidence in the 1700 great Cascadia earthquake: Coastal estimates versus elastic dislocation models"
  10. Kate Potter (September 2007). "The Big One: Understanding Why The Big Earthquake Is Predicted For Vancouver". The Science Creative Quarterly. Archived from the original on 27 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 

External links


Native and Japanese accounts

Current hazards