Spatial variations in present-day deformation, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, and their implications


  • Jeffrey T. Freymueller,

  • Steven C. Cohen,

  • Hilary J. Fletcher


From four years of Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements, we find significant spatial variations in present-day deformation between the eastern and western Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Sites in the eastern Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound move to the NNW relative to North America, in the direction of Pacific-North America relative plate motion. Velocities decrease in magnitude from nearly the full plate rate in southern Prince William Sound to about 30 mm/yr at Seward and to about 5 mm/yr near Anchorage. In contrast, sites in the western Kenai Peninsula move to the SW, in a nearly trenchward direction, with a velocity of about 20 mm/yr. The data are consistent with the shallow plate interface offshore and beneath the eastern Kenai and Prince William Sound being completely locked or nearly so, with elastic strain accumulation resulting in rapid motion in the direction of relative plate motion of sites in the overriding plate. The velocities of sites in the western Kenai, along strike to the southwest, are opposite in sign with those predicted from elastic strain accumulation. These data are incompatible with a significant locked region in this segment of the plate boundary. Trenchward velocities are found also for some sites in the Anchorage area. We interpret the trenchward velocities as being caused by a continuing postseismic transient from the 1964 great Alaska earthquake. There may be significant along-strike differences in the long-term behavior of the plate interface between the western and eastern Kenai, based on roughly coincident boundaries in the coseismic slip distribution, cumulative postseismic uplift, present-day plate coupling, and stress field. The present postseismic response appears to generate purely trenchward motion, suggesting a creep process that is purely dip slip. Our observations suggest that postseismic processes after the largest earthquakes can influence patterns of deformation for decades after the event.