During the great 1964 earthquake, parts of coastal southern Alaska subsided tectonically as much as 2 m, and this led to burial of high-intertidal organic-rich marshes by low-intertidal and tidal silt. In the tectonically active part of upper Cook Inlet, the presence of stratigraphic sections containing numerous prehistoric interbedded layers of peat and silt suggests that such stratigraphy resulted when marshes and forests were similarly inundated and buried by intertidal and tidal sediment as a result of great, prehistoric earthquakes.
This study tests the feasibility of using buried, radiocarbon-dated, late Holocene peat layers that are exposed in the intertidal zone of upper Cook Inlet to determine earthquake recurrence intervals, because estimates of the recurrence intervals of past earthquakes are needed for evaluation of the potential for future earthquakes. In a reconnaissance study of interbedded peat and silt, 65 conventional radiocarbon dates from peat and other organic material in 25 measured sections in the intertidal zone and one drillhole were used. Radiocarbon ages from the tops of peat beds cluster weakly but may indicate that regional subsidence events recurred at irregular intervals between about 200 to 800 radiocarbon yr within the past 3,200 radiocarbon yr. Conversion to calibrated ages does not alter this range substantially but may extend both ends of the age range. Coeval and correlative stratigraphy and radiocarbon data in the buried peat layers of upper Cook Inlet strongly suggest sudden, subsidence-induced layering. Because of problems associated with conventional radiocarbon dating, the complex stratigraphy of the study area, the tectonic setting, and regional changes in sea level, conclusions from the study do not permit precise identification of the timing and recurrence of paleoseismic events.