The Great M9.2 Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami of March 27, 1964
On March 27, 1964 at 5:36pm local time (March 28 at 3:36 UTC) a great earthquake of magnitude 9.2 occurred in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska. The earthquake rupture started approximately 25 km beneath the surface, with its epicenter about 6 miles (10 km) east of the mouth of College Fiord, 56 miles (90 km) west of Valdez and 75 miles (120 km) east of Anchorage. The earthquake lasted approximately 4.5 minutes and is the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. history. It is also the second largest earthquake ever recorded, next to the M9.5 earthquake in Chile in 1960.
The map shows the epicenter of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake (red star), caused when the Pacific Plate lurched northward underneath the North American Plate.
This USGS Fact Sheet by Thomas M. Brocher, et al. commemorates the Great Alaska Earthquake and examines the advances in knowledge and technology that have helped improve earthquake preparation and response in Alaska and around the world.
Short video (4 min) by Stephen Wessells, USGS relating how the largest quake in U.S. history had profound and lasting impacts on our lives. The video features USGS geologist George Plafker who, in the 1960’s, correctly interpreted the quake as a subduction zone event. This was a great leap forward in resolving key mechanisms of the developing theory of plate tectonics.
IRIS video directed by Robert F. Butler explaining the science behind the earthquake. Animations explain the magnitude (Just how big is 9.2?), rupture processes, elastic rebound, and resulting tsunami.
An animation about tsunami-generating megathrust earthquakes using examples from Japan (2011), Chile (2010), and Alaska (1964) to describe structures that generate deadly tsunamis including: megathrust plate-boundary displacement, deformation of the overriding plate by splay faulting and/or folding, and earthquake-generated landslides.
An animation that describes earthquakes along the Aleutian subduction zone, one of the most seismically active in the world, and the Queen Charlotte Transform Fault. Explains how Yakutat terrane accretion drives mountain building and crustal fault earthquakes like the 2002 M7.9 Denali Earthquake.
A documentary chronicling the first 72 hours after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake and the response to the disaster by the United States Office of Civil Defense, U.S. Military, and local, state, and federal officials. Includes extensive archival footage of the earthquake and aftermath.
Ned Rozell’s personal account of his meeting with George Plafker, one of three USGS Geologists who responded to the Great Alaska quake a few days after event. Plafker spent most of the summer in Alaska researching and documenting the earthquake.
The 1964 earthquake was a defining moment in a territory that had just achieved statehood. Fifty years later, it continues to shape Alaska, its people, and the science of earthquakes. This opinion piece by USGS geologist Peter Haeussler, et al. briefly recounts the events of March 27, 1964 and explains the scientific and societal importance of the earthquake.
Seismically triggered landslides are one of the greatest geologic hazards in Anchorage. These maps, by Randall W. Jibson and John A. Michael, depict seismic landslide hazards in Anchorage and are an important tool for planning, zoning, and emergency-response preparation.
USGS published the results of investigations of the Alaska earthquake of March 27, 1964 in a series of six Professional Papers.
Professional Paper 541 is an introduction to the story of a great earthquake—its geologic setting and effects, the field investigations, and the public and private reconstruction efforts.
Professional Paper 545 describes the effects of the earthquake on transportation, communications, and utilities.
Professional Paper 546 is a summary of what was learned from a great earthquake about the bearing of geologic and hydrologic conditions on its effects, and about the scientific investigations needed to prepare for future earthquakes.
SSA’s 2014 Annual Meeting will provide a stimulating exchange of research on a wide range of topics with colleagues from all over the world. Oral presentations, poster sessions, exhibits, field trips, business meetings and social gatherings all provide participants the opportunity to meet and share with their peers.
The Tenth U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering will provide an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to share the latest knowledge and techniques to mitigate the damaging effects of earthquakes and tsunamis.
IRIS webpage dedicated to George Plafker, a USGS field geologist noted for his studies of subduction-zone and backarc thrust earthquakes. Through very complete mapping of vertical deformation and faulting and the application of tectonics, he was first to propose in 1965 that the source of the 1964 Great Alaska earthquake was a low-angle thrust fault.
The Alaska Earthquake Alliance coordinates earthquake awareness and preparedness activities throughout Alaska. The purpose of the group is to bring together both institutions and individuals who have an interest in reducing earthquake hazards in Alaska.