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Time and size of a giant earthquake in Cascadia inferred from Japanese tsunami records of January 1700


GEOLOGICAL evidence shows that great earthquakes have occurred in the recent prehistoric past in the Cascadia subduction zone, off the Pacific coast of North America. The most recent event (or series of events) is dated at about 300 years ago1–4, but the precise date and magnitude have not been determined. Geological investigations have not been able to distinguish a single giant earthquake from a series of great earthquakes occurring over a timespan of a decade or two4, although this information is important for the assessment of future hazard5. We have found several tsunami records in Japan from AD 1700 with no indication of a local cause. Historical earthquake records and palaeoseismic evidence indicate the absence of a large earthquake in 1700 in South America, Alaska or Kamchatka, leaving Cascadia as the most likely source of this tsunami. The estimated time of the earthquake is the evening (about 21:00 local time) of 26 January 1700. The magnitude is estimated as 9 from the tsunami heights, in which case the earthquake ruptured the entire length of the Cascadia subduction zone2. These estimates are consistent with Native American legends that an earthquake occurred on a winter night6.

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Satake, K., Shimazaki, K., Tsuji, Y. et al. Time and size of a giant earthquake in Cascadia inferred from Japanese tsunami records of January 1700. Nature 379, 246–249 (1996).

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