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Sediment geochemistry as potential sea-level indicators to assess coseismic vertical displacements above the Alaska-Aleutian megathrust

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Full Publication:

Product Type: Pages In

Year: 2012

Authors: Bender, A. M., R. C. Witter, and L. A. Munk

Suggested Citation:
Bender, A. M., R. C. Witter, and L. A. Munk. 2012. Sediment geochemistry as potential sea-level indicators to assess coseismic vertical displacements above the Alaska-Aleutian megathrust. Pages 1560 in AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts 1


Nearly the entire 4000-km-long Alaska-Aleutian megathrust has ruptured in large or great (Mw ≥8) earthquakes in the past 100 years, yet paleoseismic records of earlier events are only documented east of Kodiak Is. in the region of the 1964 Alaska earthquake. The Mw 9.2 1964 earthquake dropped the coast along Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm by ≤1.8 m and raised shore platforms around Prince William Sound by ≤3 m. Evidence of sudden (coseismic) vertical displacements during megathrust earthquakes are archived in coastal sediments as sharp stratigraphic contacts that record rapid relative sea-level (RSL) changes. We use geochemical analyses of coastal sediments to detect sudden RSL changes at 2 sites above the Alaska-Aleutian megathrust. One site on Knik Arm near Anchorage subsided ~0.6 m during the 1964 earthquake. The other site overlies the Shumagin Islands segment of the megathrust, without rupture since before 1903. Relative to terrestrial sources of sediment, marine sources should be enriched in δ13C, δ15N, and have higher C:N, and Cl- concentrations. Our analyses will test whether these geochemical proxies can provide evidence for sudden RSL change across stratigraphic contacts that record coseismic uplift or subsidence. Coseismic subsidence should be represented by contacts that place sediment with enriched δ13C, δ15N signatures, elevated C:N and Cl- concentrations over sediment with lower values of these geochemical proxies and the reverse for coseismic uplift. A 1-2 m tall, ~0.5-km-long bluff along Knik Arm exposes three buried wetland soils overlain by gray mud. The soils become faint and pinch out to the northeast near a large tidal channel. Other studies of similar buried soils at adjacent sites suggest the youngest soil at Knik Arm subsided in 1964. 14C analyses of plant fossils in two older soils will provide age estimates for earlier events. We will apply the proposed geochemical methods to 20 samples collected along a forested upland to tidal mud flat transect to distinguish terrestrial from marine sediment. On Simeonof Is., stratigraphy beneath a peat bog adjacent to a tidal lagoon consists of basal marine sand overlain by ~0.6-1.5 m of peat. The presence of Arachnoidiscus japonicas, benthic marine diatom, implies a marine sand source. Sphagnum spp. and absence of marine foraminifera indicate freshwater peat. We analyzed δ13C, δ15N, and C:N from bulk sediment, and Cl- from water soluble fraction of sediment in a 1.3-m bog core. Freshwater peat at depths of 0.0-26.0, and 33.0-78.5 cm have δ13C ranging from -25.02 to -27.35 ‰, δ15N from 3.30-9.93‰, C:N of 10.16-17.89, and Cl- concentrations of 0.9-25.9 mg/L. Sand dominated intervals at 26.0-33.0, and 78.5-130 cm have δ13C ranging from -17.24 to -26.50‰, δ15N from 8.30-11.11‰ , C:N of 0.30-29.6 and Cl- concentrations of 0.7-19.3 mg/L. The data also indicate that average δ13C and δ15N values are enriched in marine sand relative to freshwater peat, respectively by 3.27‰ and 3.10‰. Also C:N ratios and Cl- concentrations are lower in marine sand, respectively by 23.1 and 0.1 mg/L. Hence, δ13C and δ15N show promise as geochemical proxies to distinguish terrestrial from marine sediment for future Alaska-Aleutian paleoseismic studies west of Kodiak Is.

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