The 1964 Alaska Earthquake

Here's some information on the 1964 Alaska earthquake. The magnitude was Mw 9.2. If you remember a smaller magnitude, that's because the magnitude has been revised upward due to our better current understanding of earthquakes. There is a whole page dedicated to this topic!

The 1964 earthquake was recorded on seismic stations around the world. In fact, some waves traveling along the surface of the Earth made many complete trips all the way around before they died down. In effect, the entire globe was "ringing like a bell," but the frequency of the "bell" was too low for anyone to here. Seismic instruments, on the other hand, had no difficulty detecting the signal. Here's what the seismic record from College, Alaska and Dallas, Texas, looked like for this quake:

College (Fairbanks), Alaska Recordings Dallas, Texas Recordings
Long-period Seismograms Short-period Seismogram
Long-period Seismogram


The Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska has place a few photographs of the damage caused by the 1964 earthquake on their web site.

Do you wonder when an earthquake like 1964 might occur again?

There are a number good publications on the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Some of them are listed here:

U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 542
The Alaska Earthquake, Effects on Communities
US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1967.

U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 543-I
The Alaska Earthquake, Regional Effects, Tectonics
by George Plafker, US Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C., 1969.

The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, Summary and Recommendations
Committee on the Alaska earthquake of the Division of Earth
Sciences, National research Council, National Academy of Sciences,
Washington, D.C., 1973.

United States Earthquakes, 1964, U.S. Department of Commerce,
National Science Services Administration, U.S. Coast and Geodetic

A few quotes from the latter publication will give some of the key facts:

"March 27: 17:36:14.2. Epicenter 61.0 north, 147.8 west, southern Alaska, depth about 33 km, ... Magnitude 8.5,"
[Note: since this description was published, the magnitude has been revised to 9.2.]

"... Maximum intensity IX-X. Felt over approximately 7000,000 square miles of Alaska, and portions of western Yukon Territory and B.C., Canada. This was one of the most violent earthquakes ever recorded and was accompanied by vertical displacement over an area of 170,000-200,000 square miles. The major area of uplift trended northeast from southern Kodiak Island to Prince William Sound, and east-west to the east of the sound. ..."

"This earthquake generated a seismic sea wave (tsunami) that devastated towns along the Gulf of Alaska and left serious damage at Alberni and Port Alberni, Canada, along the west coast of the United States, and in Hawaii."

"Only the sparse population and time of occurrence when schools were closed, business areas uncrowded, and tides low prevented the death toll from surpassing 131. (Civil Defense estimates included 122 deaths from the tsunami and 9 from the earthquake.) Total damage from the earthquake and tsunami was between $400 and $500 million."


"The ... earthquake ... generated a tsunami which was recorded all over the Pacific and was of record size along much of the coast of North America. Waves generated in various arms and inlets in the epicentral area by subaqueous slides and slumps were highly destructive locally. The following is a list of casualties and dollar damage in Alaska, California, Canada, Hawaii, and Oregon due to this tsunami:"

[The following table is modified to summarize by state.]

"Location		Fatalities from Tsunami		Damage from Tsunami

 Alaska				107			$84,268,000
 California			 11			 $8,939,000 - $9,789,000
 Canada							$10,250,000
 Hawaii							    $67,590
 Oregon				  4			   $716,000"

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska has a web page of facts and another of photographs devoted to this earthquake.

This map shows the rupture zones of the largest historic Alaskan earthquakes. Note the 1964 zone, which extends from northeast of Valdez to southwest of Kodiak Island.  Larger pdf version.