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Letters to Nature
Nature 378, 371 - 374 (23 November 1995); doi:10.1038/378371a0

Radiocarbon evidence for extensive plate-boundary rupture about 300 years ago at the Cascadia subduction zone

Alan R. Nelson*, Brian F. Atwater, Peter T. Bobrowsky§, Lee-Ann Bradley*, John J. Clague, Gary A. Carver, Mark E. Darienzo£, Wendy C. Grant, Harold W. Kruegerstar, Rodger Sparks**, Thomas W. Stafford Jr & Minze Stuiver

*US Geological Survey, MS 966, Box 25046, Denver,Colorado 80225, USA
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, CB 450,University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0450, USA
US Geological Survey at Department of Geological Sciences,Box 351310, University of Washington, Seattle,Washington 98195-1310, USA
§British Columbia Geological Survey Branch, 1810 Blanshard Street,Victoria, British Columbia V8V 1X4, Canada
Geological Survey of Canada, 100 West Render Street, Vancouver,British Columbia V6B 1R8, Canada
Department of Geology, Humboldt State University, Arcata,California 95521, USA
£Geology Department, Portland State University, Box 751, Portland, Oregon 97207, USA
starKrueger Enterprises, Inc., Geochron Laboratories Division, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
**Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory, Nuclear Sciences Group, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Ltd, Box 31 312, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Department of Geological Sciences and Quaternary Research Center, Box 351310, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1310, USA

THE Cascadia subduction zone, a region of converging tectonic plates along the Pacific coast of North America, has a geological history of very large plate-boundary earthquakes1,2, but no such earthquakes have struck this region since Euro-American settlement about 150 years ago. Geophysical estimates of the moment magnitudes (M w) of the largest such earthquakes range from 8 (ref. 3) to 9 1/2: (ref. 4). Radiocarbon dating of earthquake-killed vegetation can set upper bounds on earthquake size by constraining the length of plate boundary that ruptured in individual earth-quakes. Such dating has shown that the most recent rupture, or series of ruptures, extended at least 55 km along the Washington coast within a period of a few decades about 300 years ago5. Here we report 85 new 14C ages, which suggest that this most recent rupture (or series) extended at least 900 km between southern British Columbia and northern California. By comparing the 14C ages with written records of the past 150 years, we conclude that a single magnitude 9 earthquake, or a series of lesser earthquakes, ruptured most of the length of the Cascadia subduction zone between the late 1600s and early 1800s, and probably in the early 1700s.

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