Articles | Volume 18, issue 1
Research article
23 Jan 2018
Research article |  | 23 Jan 2018

The 1997 Kronotsky earthquake and tsunami and their predecessors, Kamchatka, Russia

Joanne Bourgeois and Tatiana K. Pinegina

Abstract. The northern part of the Kamchatka subduction zone (KSZ) experienced three tsunamigenic earthquakes in the 20th century – February 1923, April 1923, December 1997 – events that help us better understand the behavior of this segment. A particular focus of this study is the nature and location of the 5 December 1997 Kronotsky rupture (Mw ∼ 7.8) as elucidated by tsunami runup north of Kronotsky Peninsula in southern to central Kamchatsky Bay. Some studies have characterized the subduction zone off Kronotsky Peninsula as either more locked or more smoothly slipping than surrounding areas and have placed the 1997 rupture south of this promontory. However, 1997 tsunami runup north of the peninsula, as evidenced by our mapping of tsunami deposits, requires the rupture to extend farther north. Previously reported runup (1997 tsunami) on Kronotsky Peninsula was no more than 2–3 m, but our studies indicate tsunami heights for at least 50 km north of Kronotsky Peninsula in Kamchatsky Bay, ranging from 3.4 to 9.5 m (average 6.1 m), exceeding beach ridge heights of 5.3 to 8.3 m (average 7.1 m). For the two 1923 tsunamis, we cannot distinguish among their deposits in southern to central Kamchatsky Bay, but the deposits are more extensive than the 1997 deposit. A reevaluation of the April 1923 historical tsunami suggests that its moment magnitude could be revised upward, and that the 1997 earthquake filled a gap between the two 1923 earthquake ruptures. Characterizing these historical earthquakes and tsunamis in turn contributes to interpreting the prehistoric record, which is necessary to evaluate recurrence intervals for such events. Deeper in time, the prehistoric record back to ∼ AD 300 in southern to central Kamchatsky Bay indicates that during this interval, there were no local events significantly larger than those of the 20th century. Together, the historic and prehistoric tsunami record suggests a more northerly location of the 1997 rupture compared to most other analyses, a revision of the size of the April 1923 earthquake, and agreement with previous work suggesting the northern KSZ ruptures in smaller sections than the southern KSZ. The final suggestion should be considered with caution, however, as we continue to learn that our historic and even prehistoric records of earthquakes and tsunamis are limited, in particular as applied to hazard analysis. This study is a contribution to our continued efforts to understand tectonic behavior around the northern Pacific and in subduction zones, in general.

Short summary
The 5 Dec 1997 magnitude 7.8 Kronotsky earthquake and tsunami occurred on a dark night in an unpopulated area. A limited (Dec 97) post-tsunami survey found relatively small run-up, which influenced some earthquake analyses. Years later, to our surprise, we discovered an extensive tsunami deposit up to 9 m above sea level on an unexplored coastal sector. Our tsunami runup data require reevaluation of earthquake rupture location and characteristics, and of the northern Kamchatka subduction zone.
Final-revised paper