The Sallys Bend swamp and marsh area on the central Oregon coast onshore of the Cascadia subduction zone contains a sequence of buried coastal wetland soils that extends back ∼4500 yr B.P. The upper 10 of the 12 soils are represented in multiple cores. Each soil is abruptly overlain by a sandy deposit and then, in most cases, by greater than 10 cm of mud. For eight of the 10 buried soils, times of soil burial are constrained through radiocarbon ages on fine, delicate detritus from the top of the buried soil; for two of the buried soils, diatom and foraminifera data constrain paleoenvironment at the time of soil burial.
We infer that each buried soil represents a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake because the soils are laterally extensive and abruptly overlain by sandy deposits and mud. Preservation of coseismically buried soils occurred from 4500 yr ago until ∼500–600 yr ago, after which preservation was compromised by cessation of gradual relative sea-level rise, which in turn precluded drowning of marsh soils during instances of coseismic subsidence. Based on grain-size and microfossil data, sandy deposits overlying buried soils accumulated immediately after a subduction zone earthquake, during tsunami incursion into Sallys Bend. The possibility that the sandy deposits were sourced directly from landslides triggered upstream in the Yaquina River basin by seismic shaking was discounted based on sedimentologic, microfossil, and depositional site characteristics of the sandy deposits, which were inconsistent with a fluvial origin. Biostratigraphic analyses of sediment above two buried soils—in the case of two earthquakes, one occurring shortly after 1541–1708 cal. yr B.P. and the other occurring shortly after 3227–3444 cal. yr B.P.—provide estimates that coseismic subsidence was a minimum of 0.4 m. The average recurrence interval of subduction zone earthquakes is 420–580 yr, based on an ∼3750–4050-yr-long record and seven to nine interearthquake intervals.
The comparison of the Yaquina Bay earthquake record to similar records at other Cascadia coastal sites helps to define potential patterns of rupture for different earthquakes, although inherent uncertainty in dating precludes definitive statements about rupture length during earthquakes. We infer that in the first half of the last millennia, the northern Oregon part of the subduction zone had a different rupture history than the southern Oregon part of the subduction zone, and we also infer that at ca. 1.6 ka, two earthquakes closely spaced in time together ruptured a length of the megathrust that extends at least from southwestern Washington to southern Oregon.