The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Friday, 28 March 2014 08:58

50th anniversary of the 9.2 magnitude Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami

50th anniversary of the 9.2 magnitude Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami Credits: U.S. Navy on March 30, 1964

On March 27 1964 a 9.2 magnitude earthquake, the largest ever recorder in the U.S., shook Alaska for about 5minutes, and was followed by a 100ft high tsunami. The earthquake and tsunami combined, caused about $2.3billion in property loss and hit a death toll of 131. Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake, it is widely recognized that the particular earthquake event set the ground for great advancements in earth science. Read more on the research breakthroughs of the last 50years, followed by videos with technical information, and watch survivors describing their personal experience from that day.

Survivors of the Alaska earthquake describe in the most dramatic way the noise, duration and catastrophic impact of the shaking and the tsunami that followed. Keneth Lester, a Seward resident describes the event as "extremely noisy, with a crunching, grinding noise". Donald Kompkoff, from Chenega, a village wiped out by the tsunami, remembers that "the ground opened up right in front of us and then closed and water chewed up about 30ft up in the air". Marc Eads, a Seward resident, referring to the sea wave that hit the coastal area, says "we didn't worry about it too much, because we knew from being sailors that waves out in the ocean travel about 15 -18mph; this was going about 50mph".

By the time the Alaska earthquake occurred, very little was known on the earthquake generation mechanisms. The observations and interpretation of the event by the USGS scientist, George Plafker, led to the establishment of the theory of plate tectonics, which radically changed earthquake science. Moreover, core samples taken from the soil provided useful information on the recurrence period of such events. Since then, the increase of monitoring stations in the area and across the country as well as the creation of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Maps are among the major advancements in the field.

The tsunami, following the earthquake, wiped out entire villages, caused extensive damage to infrastructure and buildings, revealing in the most dramatic way the kind of impact such an event can cause to the nearby coastal communities. But the philosophy of turning disaster into knowledge has led to the understanding of tectonic seabed deformation as well as the development of appropriate warning systems and evacuation routes and procedures through the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program.

Sources: USGS, AlaskaDHSEM

Read 3703 times Last modified on Friday, 28 March 2014 10:46

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