Seismo Blog

December 2017 Oregon Tremor Event

December 15, 2017

by Nancy Sackman

December 2017 Oregon Tremor Event

 

Over the past 9-10 days, it appears that tremor in central Oregon has picked up (Figure 1).  The last slow slip and tremor event was in February 2016, 22 months ago.  

 

Figure 1

Figure 1. Age progression of tremor in central Oregon for the past 9 days.  Earliest tremor locations start from 12/5/2017 and propagate roughly outward, clustering near Salem and Roseburg.  Last update was December 14, 2017.


 

Tremor is the release of seismic noise from slow slip along the interface of the Juan de Fuca and North American plates and lasts for several weeks to months.  This process is known as Episodic Tremor and Slip (ETS).  Slow slip happens down-dip of the locked zone (Figure 2).  The locked zone is where tectonic stress builds up until it releases in a great earthquake or megaquake.  The recurrence interval of slow slip and tremor varies at different regions along the Cascadia Subduction Zone.  

 

Figure 2

Figure 2. Cross section of the subducting Juan de Fuca Plate.  Figure from Vidale, J. and Houston H.  (2012) Slow slip:  A new kind of earthquake (Physics Today, 2012 pages 38-43).

 

The last ETS event in Cascadia started in February 2017 around the western edge of the Olympic Mountains.  The duration was approximately 35 days with a two-week quiescent period.  Prior ETS events in northern Washington/Vancouver Island area was approximately December 2015.  

 

The last ETS event in central Oregon was 2016 and lasted just over a week before it stopped on March 1, 2016.  

 

ETS events are still being studied to understand the processes about slow slip and megathrust earthquakes.  


More information about slow slip and tremor can be found here on the PNSN website.

What is “The Big One” going to look like? How soon will we know it’s coming? How are our cities and communities going to fare?

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This Thursday, 50 million people around the world will drop, cover, and hold on for the 8th Annual Great ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill in the world. This year at the PNSN, our motto is “drop, cover, hold on, and do something else too". We are thinking about other ways that we can enhance our preparedness for a major earthquake. This week on the SeismoBlog, we are outlining a few other strategies to supplement this year’s drill.

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All the mountains, oceans, and islands on Earth exist because of plate tectonics. Different plate boundaries produce different geologic features: divergent boundaries spread apart to form mid-ocean ridges and rift valleys, transform boundaries slide past one another to form strike-slip faults like the San Andreas, and convergent boundaries collide to form tall mountains, deep trenches, and volcanoes. This type of plate boundary is responsible for the numerous volcanic arcs around the Pacific Rim (often called the “Ring of Fire”), and formed our iconic Cascade Volcanoes. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Juan de Fuca plate is subducting beneath the North American plate along a convergent plate boundary called the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ). Subduction zones like this are the only fault systems capable of producing very large megathrust earthquakes, but they only do so occasionally - over the last 100 years, there have been 84 earthquakes of magnitude 8.0 or greater worldwide, and only 4 of them were greater than an M9.

 


The simplest answer to the question “Will there be another large earthquake on the CSZ?” is yes. However, the question of “when” is much more difficult to answer. Seismologists don’t know exactly when the next large earthquake will occur on the CSZ, but we do have a good picture of when they have happened over the past 10,000 years. If we divide 10,000 years by the number of ~M9 earthquakes found in that time period, the average recurrence rate for M9 earthquakes along the CSZ is roughly 550 years. We are 316 years past the last great CSZ earthquake in 1700, and we estimate that there is about a 15 % chance that an M9 will occur on this fault within the next 50 years. However, research on submarine landslide deposits shaken loose by big earthquakes indicate that M8+ earthquakes occasionally strike off the coast of Oregon in between “full rip” M9 events. This research suggests that there is a greater probability of reoccurence of a great earthquake in Southern Oregon than off the Washington coast, but there is not a consensus within the geophysical community as to specifically how much greater the hazard is.

One is a guess, and the other is an educated guess.
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