Abstract

The active tectonic setting of the southwest coast of Canada and the Pacific northwest coast of the United states is dominated by the Cascadia subduction zone. The zone can be divided into four segments where oceanic lithosphere is converging independently with the North American plate: the Winona and the Explorer segments in the north, the larger Juan de Fuca segment that extends into both Canada and the United States, and the Gorda segment in the south. The oceanic lithosphere entering the Cascadia subduction zone in all segments is extremely young, less than 10 Ma. Of the other six zones around the Pacific where young (< 20 Ma) lithosphere is being subducted, five have had major thrust earthquakes (megathrust events) on the subduction interface in historic time. An estimation based on potential area of rupture gives maximum possible earthquake magnitudes along the Cascadia subducting margin of 8.2 for the Winona segment, 8.5 for the Explorer segment, 9.1 for the Juan de Fuca segment, and 8.3 for the South Gorda segment. Repeat times for maximum earthquakes, based on the ratios of seismic slip to total slip observed in other subduction zones, are predicted to be up to several hundred years for each segment, well beyond recorded history of the west coast, which began about 1800. Thus the lack of historical seismicity information provides a few constraints on the assessment of the seismic potential of the subduction zone.

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