Stratigraphic, lithologic, foraminiferal, and radiocarbon analyses indicate that at least four abrupt mud-over-peat contacts are recorded across three sites (Jacoby Creek, McDaniel Creek, and Mad River Slough) in northern Humboldt Bay, California, USA (∼44.8°N, −124.2°W). The stratigraphy records subsidence during past megathrust earthquakes at the southern Cascadia subduction zone ∼40 km north of the Mendocino Triple Junction. Maximum and minimum radiocarbon ages on plant macrofossils from above and below laterally extensive (>6 km) contacts suggest regional synchroneity of subsidence. The shallowest contact has radiocarbon ages that are consistent with the most recent great earthquake at Cascadia, which occurred at 250 cal yr B.P. (1700 CE). Using Bchron and OxCal software, we model ages for the three older contacts of ca. 875 cal yr B.P., ca. 1120 cal yr B.P., and ca. 1620 cal yr B.P.
For each of the four earthquakes, we analyze foraminifera across representative mud-over-peat contacts selected from McDaniel Creek. Changes in fossil foraminiferal assemblages across all four contacts reveal sudden relative sea-level (RSL) rise (land subsidence) with submergence lasting from decades to centuries. To estimate subsidence during each earthquake, we reconstructed RSL rise across the contacts using the fossil foraminiferal assemblages in a Bayesian transfer function. The coseismic subsidence estimates are 0.85 ± 0.46 m for the 1700 CE earthquake, 0.42 ± 0.37 m for the ca. 875 cal yr B.P. earthquake, 0.79 ± 0.47 m for the ca. 1120 cal yr B.P. earthquake, and ≥0.93 m for the ca. 1620 cal yr B.P. earthquake. The subsidence estimate for the ca. 1620 cal yr B.P. earthquake is a minimum because the pre-subsidence paleoenvironment likely was above the upper limit of foraminiferal habitation. The subsidence estimate for the ca. 875 cal yr B.P. earthquake is less than (<50%) the subsidence estimates for other contacts and suggests that subsidence magnitude varied over the past four earthquake cycles in southern Cascadia.