Seafloor geomorphology of convergent margins: Implications for Cascadia seismic hazard

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Abstract

[1] We compare the geomorphology of several convergent continental margins to constrain the seismic hazard of the Cascadia margin offshore Oregon, and present the possibility of a slow earthquake mechanism for a characteristic Cascadia event. The Cascadia seafloor has a very delicate bathymetry, with well-preserved landslides and noneroded slopes approaching 20°, unusual for a margin that produces M∼9 earthquakes. Three-dimensional seismic and multibeam bathymetry data from the Nankai Trough suggest ubiquitous erosion over the entire margin with a smooth lower slope, devoid of large landslides, as would be expected on an accretionary margin that produces M∼8.5 earthquakes. The accretionary Makran (Pakistan) and Kodiak (Alaska) margins have evidence of mass wasting and smooth lower slopes that lack large landslides. The nonaccreting Nicaraguan, Sanriku, and Aleutian margins have large, well-preserved landslides that add roughness elements to the slope, and have produced anomalously large tsunami, suggesting a slow source mechanism. Quantitative analysis of the lower slope roughness suggests the Cascadia has a characteristic geomorphology substantially different than the other sedimented convergent margins. The geomorphology, heat flow, pore pressure regime, and accounts of the 1700 “megathrust” event suggest a possible characteristic earthquake with a slow source mechanism. Rupture velocity would be high enough to be tsunamigenic, but accelerations would be low such that downslope erosion is minimal. To make the distinction between a slow and rapid source mechanism is critical in planning for seismic hazard in the Pacific Northwest.

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