In 1996 we began investigating the paleoseismic history of the Cascadia margin based on turbidite records. The possibility that a good earthquake record existed along the margin had been suggested in the late 1960's, and proposed formally in 1990 by John Adams. We conducted our first major cruise to test this hypothesis in 1999 aboard the R/V Melville. We have published several papers since then that expore in detail the realtionship between great earthquakes and turbidite stratigraphy in Cascadia. This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation Earth Science and Ocean Science Divisions, and the USGS NEHRP Program since 1999.
A large number of co-investigators, students, technicians and ships crew have been involved in this project since the late 1990s, including: Chris Goldfinger, C. Hans Nelson Joel E. Johnson, Ann E. Morey, Julia Gutiérrez-Pastor, Eugene Karabanov, Andrew T. Eriksson, Eulàlia Gràcia, Gita Dunhill, Jason Patton, Randolph J. Enkin, Audrey Dallimore, Tracy Vallier Steve Wolf, Mike Hamer, Michaele Kashgarian, John Southon, Pete Kalk, Chris Moser, Bob Wilson, Jeff Beeson, Handoko Wibowo, Bran Black, Amy Garrett, the officers and crews of the R/V Melville and R/V Revelle and the Shipboard Scientific Parties
The Observations: Correlation of Grain-Size Proxies Along Strike in Cascadia
The Holocene stratigraphy of submarine channels along the Cascadia margin has long been known to include a turbidite sequence.
L. D. Kulm and his students in the late 1960's and 1970's investigated the nature, distribution, and timing of these turbidite events in considerable detail using piston cores from some of the channels. In oiur recent work, we have used stratigraphic correlation among sites, and have come to rely on such correlations to establish continuity of the deposits, and therefore synchronous deposition along strike. The correlations are remarkable in many cases, so much so that it raises the question: why do they correlate so well?
Mazama Ash and other Distinctive Turbidites
Cores taken in Cascadia Basin nearly all contain a unique datable event, the ash layer from the eruption of Mount Mazama, at 6845 ±50 radiocarbon yr BP (Bacon, 1983). The ash was distributed to the channel system via the drainage basins of major rivers, similar to the distribution of Mt St. Helens ash following the 1980 eruption (Nelson
et al., 1968). Only channel cores contain the ash, indicating that airfall was not significant. Griggs and Kulm(1970) used the Mazama ash to calculate that the mean recurrence interval for the post-Mazama turbidites in Cascadia channel was 410-510 years.
In addition to the Mazama ash, which was the first tool to help tie together Cascadia basin stratigraphy, a number of turbidites provided unique horizons that served to strengthen the stratigraphic framework significantly. These include events T5, T7, T11, and T16 in particular. T5 is notable for its unusual stacking of coarse fining upward units within the turbidite. This odd signature persists at many (but not all) sites, including Effingham Inlet, further discussed below. T7 in several channels consists of three major units, but can be subdivided into as many as seven units, an unusual feature that persists in the Juan de Fuca and Cascadia Channel cores. T11 and T16 are distinguished by their great thickness at all sites, but also have very distinctive three unit and five unit structures respectively at nearly all sites as well. One notable feature we observe is the lack of significant change in the structure of the turbidite series from proximal (Juan de Fuca) to distal (Cascadia) Channels. The transport distance is ~300 km between these two sites, and the turbidity currents pass through the confluence with Willapa Channel, which drains most of the Washington margin with multiple canyon systems. Yet the turbidites are remarkable similar in the number of fining upward units in each, and in their geophysical signatures We see no evidence of stacking of units downstream as one might expect from the input of Willapa Channel.
Cascadia offshore paleoseismology has been greatly aided by the great similarity of turbidite structure in individual deposits along strike. This has allowed us to use traditional oil industry techniques in use since the 1920’s to correlate individual deposits between our core sites. We have found that it is possible to correlate individual turbidites from site to site using high resolution physical property data such as Gamma density, P-wave velocity and magnetic susceptibility. These continuous data are routinely collected from offshore cores. The magnetic and density “fingerprints” of each turbidite are a reflection of grain size distributions within each turbidite. While these techniques are similar to the oil industry, the scale is quite different spatially (the entire subduction zone in our case) and because the Cascadia deposits in many cases have no stratigraphic continuity between sites. The typical signature consists of 1-3 coarse fining upward sandy pulses (partial Bouma sequences), capped by the fining upward silty tail, indicating final waning of the turbidity current. It is the sequence of pulses that we are correlating over large distances, using the same techniques used in the oil industry to “fingerprint” formations and track them through prospect fields. While such correlations are common stratigraphic tools, and are a staple of the oil industry, we did not expect that individual turbidites would correlate as well as they do over such large distances. Even more surprising than successful local correlations between cores, we also found that individual events can be correlated not only within channels, but between separate channels that never meet. This is a startling observation, since turbidites in separate channels should have little in common. Some correlated events are as much as 500 km apart, yet they share basic characteristics such as event size, number of coarse sandy pulses, and even subtle details of the shape of the physical property signatures (proxies for grain size distribution), for which we do not know the cause.
Magnetic and Density Signatures: Grain Size Proxies
Figure 1 shows several representative turbidites, illustrating the multiple fining-upward sequences (Bouma A-C) that compose each turbidite. Typically, these sequences have only one fine tail (Bouma D) associated with waning of the turbidity current. The signatures we are correlating are comprised of these stacked coarse pulses. These figs. shows in detail that the magnetic susceptibility, density, and grain size trends within each event are closely correlated. This relationship is straightforward but important because we can in most cases use the high-resolution density and magnetic data as grain size proxies, at least for lithologies along the Cascadia and northern San Andreas Fault (NSAF) systems (Goldfinger and others, 2007, 2008; Goldfinger and others, 2003; Morey and others, 2003; Wynn and Masson, 2003). In detail, the magnetic susceptibility (MS) signal is associated with terrestrial silt-sized magnetic minerals, but often we see sand at the turbidite base. The sand may be non-magnetic quartz grains, so the magnetic susceptibility peak does not always precisely correlate with a maximum of grain size. Also in thick turbidite beds, separation of grains according to specific gravity (or mineral density) can dominate, resulting in fine silt heavy mineral lamina located below medium quartz silt or sand. Edge effect and biasing of the measurements, even at 5mm spacing, further alters the geophysical signatures. We find, however, that the proxy approximation is reasonable in most cases (for example Stupavsky and others, 1976; King and others, 1982). Using both density and magnetic susceptibility reduces this problem, and the differences are not critical to observing a recognizable “fingerprint” for many turbidites. These “fingerprints” represent detailed depositional characteristics of each turbidite.
Figure 1. Correlation of four Cascadia turbidite cores spanning 550 km of the Cascadia margin from regionally correlated turbidites in Goldfinger et al. (2011). Events T11-T18 are shown to illustrate the two extreme events in this record, T11 and T16. T16 is a complex event with three elements at all sites, suggestive of shaking from three rupture patches in close succession. The three units in T16 are more widely spaced in proximal cores such as 56 PC. T16 also diminishes southward at Rogue Canyon. Location map show the four cores in large yellow bordered symbols.
Figure 2. Preliminary correlations between Cascadia Channel core M9907-23PC and core MD02-2494 from Effingham inlet, western Vancouver Island, From Goldfinger et al., 2011). Each plot shows the magnetic susceptibility record (blue) from an Effingham Inlet (inner basin) turbidite, and a magnetic susceptibility or Gamma density record from our 1999 cores in Cascadia Channel in purple. These events were interpreted as seismites by Dallimore et al., 2005b, based on wall rock signature from the adjacent Fiord walls (shown in gray), and by comparison to the historical turbidite triggered by the1946 Vancouver Island earthquake. The records show a striking similarity in general size, number of sandy pulses (magnetic and density peaks) and in some cases, detailed trends. Radiocarbon ages are also first order compatible, but have separations of 100-200 years in some cases. Offshore ages are the OxCal combined ages in Appendix 10b of Goldfinger et al (2011) with 2s ranges. The combined age data and stratigraphic correlation suggest that the Effingham turbidites and Cascadia Basin turbidite signatures are recording the same earthquakes. Effingham data from Dallimore et al. (2009).
Figure 2 shows comparisons of magnetic signatures between offshore Cascadia basin core 25 PC, in Cascadia Channel, and a core in Effinham Inlet on Vanvouver Island. A remarkable similarity is apparent in the structure of these turbidites, which also have a reasonably good age similarity. It was this comparison that led us to consider that such similarities could be that the structures of these turbidites maybe generated by the same signal, the earthquake itself.
Why do They Correlate?
Our working hypothesis is that given the separation of the channels, the sometimes differing geology, and differing canyon/channel morphologies through which the turbid flows passed, the only factor in common is the original earthquake itself. If so, then it is possible that the turbidite deposits have recorded information about the original earthquakes, resulting in the correlations we see (Goldfinger et al., 2004, 2008, 2011). At first glance, this would certainly seem to be an outrageous hypothesis. It is difficult to imagine that a chaotic event such as a turbidity current could record anything useful. However, reviews of the literature and a previous small pilot experiment suggest otherwise. Recent numerical and physical models suggest that the basic properties of turbidity currents are relatively well modeled by simple techniques, and that the governing principles may allow the initial perturbation to be recorded by the final deposit. Our hypothesis is that multiple coarse pulses in the turbidites, correlated over some distance, may reflect the rupture of multiple segments or asperities during an earthquake, that is, the source-time function of the earthquake.
In this project, we proposed a simple laboratory test of this hypothesis. We generated turbidity currents in flume tanks, and triggered these currents with a set of inputs that simulated several input scenarios. We input initial perturbations similar to those expected from several recent great earthquakes, such as the 1906 NSAF earthquake, and the 2004 Sumatran earthquake, as well as generic signals and simulations of storm generated hyperpycnal flows.
Video of simple turbidite experiment showing the self-sustaining turbilence that
allow long-distance sediment transport (the source of this video is unknown).
Figure 3. Multiple experimental runs, 30 gallon prototype tank. Image shows the resulting deposit from four simulated turbidites. A: Two pulse impulsive event with 30 seconds elapsed between input pulses. B. Single pulse impulsive event. C: Simulated hyperpycnal event, with gradually increasing hydrograph, then gradual decrease. D. Two pulse impulsive event, too compacted by overlying runs for further analysis. Plots at right are four pixel profiles through the deposit at its greatest thickness. Pixel value shows grain size distribution, with while material of silt size (SilcoSil 250) having values of ~ 180-210, and aluminum oxide very fine sand in the tan color, ranging from ~ 100-150. Plots show sharp bases for the impulsive events, and the waxing then waning nature of the simulated hyperpycnal event. 30 second separation between pulses is clearly visible in the image and observable in the data.
The literature of turbidity currents is replete with turbidite tank experiments, however in nearly all cases, the goal is to zero out input heterogeneity and investigate the hydrodynamics of the currents, and sometimes the depositional patterns (map, temporal or 3D). Our goal was essentially the opposite, to control input heterogeneity, and create quantifiable input heterogeneity that would convolve with hydrodynamic effects to deposit sediment in a receiver basin. Rather than assume that hydrodynamics control deposition patterns, our intent was to test this assumption and generate a variety of source inputs which could be compared to the resulting deposits.
We first constructed a prototype system to test various mechanisms to generate turbidity currents in which we could control the input flow to simulate a variety of input sources. An initial sediment source mixing box with controllable output flap was discarded as the mechanisms were prone to clogging with sediment, and because of the difficulty of keeping a variety of grain sizes in suspension. The prototype system consisted of a 114 liter transparent walled tank ( ~ 30 U.S gallons), a slurry pump capable of pumping sand silt slurry at rates from 0.1-6 gpm, and a half-round PVC slanted tube to simulate a submarine canyon. The receiver basin was a transparent container within the tank, with fluted walls designed to reduce flow near the basin walls and therefore expand sediment deposition near the walls for better sampling and visual observations. We tested a variety of sediment grain sizes and compositions for suitability for both the experiment design and scaling considerations.
Using this arrangement we tested a number of combinations of SicoSil 250 and AlO2 180 with kaolin and without until we arrived at proportions that allowed reasonable settling times and provided good visual distinctions between grain size fractions. We then did a series of input runs to simulate a variety of input sources, including 1) single pulse and multiple pulse “impulsive” inputs, that is inputs with sharp input flow ramps simulating a landslide or earthquake input 2) gradual waxing and waning hydrograph ramps, simulating a hyperpycnal flow; 3) inverted impulsive flows, with gradual starting flow increase, with abrupt shutoff. We also varied the time between individual pulses from 15 minutes to as short as 30 seconds to simulate complex heterogeneous flow hydrographs. An example of these experiments is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 4. Example test run from larger tank experimental setup. In this run, three input pulses were introduced into the simulated canyon system. Upper panel shows the slurry flow history for these three pulses. Lower panels show the deposit, and the extracted grain size proxy based on the color coded sediment size fractions. The first pulse was intended to be a hyperpycnal waxing then waning flow, though the rate of change was too great to capture the idealized flow hydrograph, instead it simulated a two pulse event with no time gap, but rather a flow reduction by ~ 50%. The second event was a two pulse event impulsive event.
Extensive testing was conducted to find the optimal configuration for recording turbidite-type deposits within this new tank setup. This testing also contributed to the question of scaling. Tests were made with varying angles of the PVC pipe, varied density of the sediment flow (with the addition of a densifying agent, calcium chloride dihydrate, at a range of ratios), the rate of flow – with higher and lower flow rates, and with a number of receiver basin configurations. While an optimal setup was found within these parameters, it was also found that deposition patterns related to the heterogeneous flow still occurred regardless of changes in any of these parameters. Example runs from a larger 130 gal. setup are shown in Figure 4. Aside from ‘extreme’ and unrealistic setups, most configurations still produced a measurable turbidite flow and deposit. These initial tests and calibrations indicate that small changes to density, flow rate, slope angle, and other factors, appears to have little effect on the turbidite form and sediment input itself. Further controlled testing of these parameters and their ranges is planned to further analyze and determine what effect scaling changes may have.
Conclusions so far
Simulated heterogeneous flows into a total of four tank arrangements were achieved, and showed a strong relationship to the deposits across all four setups, and across a range of scaling parameters that is larger than that expected in nature. Simulated hyperpycnal flows, short and long pulse turbidites, multipulse turbidites with simple and complex flow hydrographs were all recreated and recorded within the sediment deposited in the receiver basin. The grain size profiles were successfully extracted from the color coded sediment at very high resolution. With the addition of the flowmeter data, there is also now a much clearer view of the details of the input flow into the tank. With measurements of the changing flow rate at 10 Hz, a highly detailed record of the fluctuations in flow is available, which can be directly compared to the photography of the sediment deposited in the basin (Figure 4). High frequency variability in the flow when the rate exceeds the maximum stable rate (~ 8 gpm) results in a chaotic input, however this chaotic input is buffered by the flow to the receiver basin and is generally not seen in the deposits. There is certainly a frequency limit to variable inputs above which the deposits are not sensitive.
We conclude that heterogeneous simulated turbidity currents leave deposits that closely reflect the low frequency content of flow variability. As seen in natural deposits, hyperpycnal flow hydrographs results in a waxing then waning grain size depositional pattern. Similarly, impulsive inputs that simulate earthquake, self-failure, delta-front failure or other impulsive sources result is sharp based fining upward sequences that reflect the input flow hydrographs. Multiple input pulses within single flows also result in multiple fining upward sequences reflected in the grain size profiles (Figure 5).
We find at least permissive support for the hypothesis that natural turbidites may in some cases represent elements of the heterogeneity of the source mechanism of complex sources such as earthquakes, as they are known to do for hyperpycnal flows. Earthquake source mechanisms can be complex, and any given site will represent the arrival of different phases as well as the arrival of energy fluctuations from a heterogeneous source.
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