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Professional Paper 541

The Alaska Earthquake of March 27, 1964

Field Investigations and Reconstruction Effort

By Wallace R. Hansen, Edwin B. Eckel, William E. Schaem, Robert E. Lyle, Warren George, and Genie Chance

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (50.9 MB)Introduction

One of the greatest geotectonic events of our time occurred in southern Alaska late in the afternoon of March 27, 1964. Beneath a leaden sky, the chill of evening was just settling over the Alaskan countryside. Light snow was falling on some communities. It was Good Friday, schools were closed, and the business day was ending. Suddenly without warning half of Alaska was rocked and jarred by the most violent earthquake to occur in North America this century.

The descriptive summary that follows is based on the work of many investigators. A large and still-growing scientific literature has accumulated since the earthquake, and this literature has been freely drawn upon here. In particular, the writers have relied upon the findings of their colleagues in the Geological Survey. Some of these findings have been published, but some are still being prepared for publication. Moreover, some field investigations are still in progress.

This is the first in a series of six reports that the U.S. Geological Survey published on the results of a comprehensive geologic study that began, as a reconnaissance survey, within 24 hours after the March 27, 1964, Magnitude 9.2 Great Alaska Earthquake and extended, as detailed investigations, through several field seasons. The 1964 Great Alaska earthquake was the largest earthquake in the U.S. since 1700. Professional Paper 541, in 1 part, describes Field Investigations and Reconstruction Effort.

The Alaska Earthquake Professional Papers

The U.S. Geological Survey published the results of investigations of the Alaska earthquake of March 27, 1964, in a series of six Professional Papers.

■ Professional Paper 541 is an introduction to the story of a great earthquake—its geologic setting and effects, the field investigations, and the public and private reconstruction efforts (this paper).

Professional Paper 542 describes the effects of the earthquake on Alaskan communities.

Professional Paper 543 describes the earthquake’s regional effects.

Professional Paper 544 describes the effects of the earthquake on the hydrologic regimen.

Professional Paper 545 describes the effects of the earthquake on transportation, communications, and utilities.

Professional Paper 546 is a summary of what was learned from a great earthquake about the bearing of geologic and hydrologic conditions on its effects, and about the scientific investigations needed to prepare for future earthquakes.

First posted November 4, 2011
Revised August 27, 2013

For additional information:
Contact Information, Menlo Park, Calif.
   Office—Earthquake Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 977
Menlo Park, CA 94025

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Suggested citation:

Hansen, W.R., Eckel, E.B., Schaem, W.E., Lyle, R.E., George, W., and Chance, G. 1966, The Alaska Earthquake of March 27, 1964; field investigations and reconstruction effort: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 541, 111 p.,


A Summary Description of the Alaska Earthquake--Its Setting and Effects

Investigations by the Geological Survey

The Word of the Scientific and Engineering Task Force--Earth Science Applied to Policy Decisions in Early Relief and Reconstruction

Activities of the Corps of Engineers--Cleanup and Early Reconstruction

Reconstruction by the Corps of Engineers--Methods and Accomplishments

The Year of Decision and Action

Selected References

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