A multifault earthquake threat for the Seattle metropolitan region revealed by mass tree mortality

Bryan A. Black, Jessie K. Pearl, Charlotte L. Pearson, Patrick T. Pringle, David C. Frank, Morgan T. Page, Brendan M. Buckley, Edward R. Cook, Grant L. Harley, Karen J. King, Jonathan F. Hughes, David J. Reynolds, Brian L. Sherrod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Compound earthquakes involving simultaneous ruptures along multiple faults often define a region’s upper threshold of maximum magnitude. Yet, the potential for linked faulting remains poorly understood given the infrequency of these events in the historic era. Geological records provide longer perspectives, although temporal uncertainties are too broad to clearly pinpoint single multifault events. Here, we use dendrochronological dating and a cosmogenic radiation pulse to constrain the death dates of earthquake-killed trees along two adjacent fault zones near Seattle, Washington to within a 6-month period between the 923 and 924 CE growing seasons. Our narrow constraints conclusively show linked rupturing that occurred either as a single composite earthquake of estimated magnitude 7.8 or as a closely spaced double earthquake sequence with estimated magnitudes of 7.5 and 7.3. These scenarios, which are not recognized in current hazard models, increase the maximum earthquake size needed for seismic preparedness and engineering design within the Puget Sound region of >4 million residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereadh4973
JournalScience Advances
Issue number39
StatePublished - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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