Tsunami hazards to U.S. coasts from giant earthquakes in Alaska

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Abstract

In the aftermath of Japan's devastating 11 March 2011Mw 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, scientists are considering whether and how a similar tsunami could be generated along the Alaskan-Aleutian subduction zone (AASZ). A tsunami triggered by an earthquake along the AASZ would cross the Pacific Ocean and cause extensive damage along highly populated U.S. coasts, with ports being particularly vulnerable. For example, a tsunami in 1946 generated by a Mw 8.6 earthquake near Unimak Pass, Alaska (Figure 1a), caused signifcant damage along the U.S. West Coast, took 150 lives in Hawaii, and inundated shorelines of South Pacific islands and Antarctica [Fryer et al., 2004; Lopez and Okal, 2006]. The 1946 tsunami occurred before modern broadband seismometers were in place, and the mechanisms that created it remain poorly understood.

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