The rupture process and tectonic implications of the great 1964 Prince William Sound earthquake

Douglas H. Christensen, Susan L. Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


We have determined the rupture history of the March 28, 1964, Prince Williams Sound earthquake (Mw=9.2) from long-period WWSSN P-wave seismograms. Source time functions determined from the long-period P waves indicate two major pulses of moment release. The first and largest moment pulse has a duration of approximately 100 seconds with a relatively smooth onset which reaches a peak moment release rate at about 75 seconds into the rupture. The second smaller pulse of moment release starts at approximately 160 seconds after the origin time and has a duration of roughly 40 seconds. Because of the large size of this event and thus a deficiency of on-scale, digitizable P-wave seismograms, it is impossible to uniquely invert for the location of moment release. However, if we assume a rupture direction based on the aftershock distribution and the results of surface wave directivity studies we are able to locate the spatial distribution of moment along the length of the fault. The first moment pulse most likely initiated near the epicenter at the northeastern down-dip edge of the aftershock area and then spread over the fault surface in a semi-circular fashion until the full width of the fault was activated. The rupture then extended toward the southwest approximately 300 km (Ruff and Kanamori, 1983). The second moment pulse was located in the vicinity of Kodiak Island, starting at ∼500 km southwest of the epicenter and extending to about 600 km. Although the aftershock area extends southwest past the second moment pulse by at least 100 km, the moment release remained low. We interpret the 1964 Prince William Sound earthquake as a multiple asperity rupture with a very large dominant asperity in the epicentral region and a second major, but smaller, asperity in the Kodiak Island region. The zone that ruptured in the 1964 earthquake is segmented into two regions corresponding to the two regions of concentrated moment release. Historical earthquake data suggest that these segments behaved independently during previous events. The Kodiak Island region appears to rupture more frequently with previous events occurring in 1900, 1854, 1844, and 1792. In contrast, the Prince William Sound region has much longer recurrence intervals on the order of 400-1000 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-53
Number of pages25
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics PAGEOPH
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • 1964 earthquake
  • Alaskan earthquakes
  • Asperities
  • body waves
  • fault segmentation
  • rupture process
  • subduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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