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Professional Paper 543–A

Slide-Induced Waves, Seiching and Ground Fracturing Caused by the Earthquake of March 27, 1964 at Kenai Lake, Alaska

By David S. McCulloch

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (21.6 MB)Abstract

The March 27, 1964, earthquake dislodged slides from nine deltas in Kenai Lake, south-central Alaska. Sliding removed protruding parts of deltas-often the youngest parts-and steepened delta fronts, increasing the chances of further sliding. Fathograms show that debris from large slides spread widely over the lake floor, some reaching the toe of the opposite shore; at one place debris traveled 5,000 feet over the horizontal lake floor.

Slides generated two kinds of local waves: a backfill and far-shore wave. Backfill waves were formed by water that rushed toward the delta to fill the void left by the sinking slide mass, overtopped the slide scrap, and came ashore over the delta. Some backfill waves had runup heights of 30 feet and ran inland more than 300 feet, uprooting and breaking off large trees. Far-shore waves hit the shore opposite the slides. They were formed by slide debris that crossed the lake floor and forced water ahead of it, which then ran up the opposite slope, burst above the lake surface, and struck the shore. One far-shore wave had a runup height of 72 feet.

Kenai Lake was tilted and seiched; a power spectrum analysis of a limnogram shows a wave having the period of the calculated uninodal seiche (36 minutes) and several shorter period waves. In constricted and shallow reaches, waves caused by seiching had 20- and 30-foot runup heights.

Deep lateral spreading of sediments toward delta margins displaced deeply driven railroad-bridge piles, and set up stress fields in the surface sediments which resulted in the formation of many shear and some tension fractures on the surface of two deltas.

First posted October 17, 2012
Revised August 13, 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:

McCulloch, D.S., 1966, Slide-induced waves, seiching and ground fracturing caused by the earthquake of March 27, 1964 at Kenai Lake, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 543–A, 41 p., 2 sheets, scales 1:31,680 and 1:63,360,




Location and Physiographic Setting


Slide and Slide-generated Waves


Spreading of Delta Sediments

Ground Fractures on Deltas


References Cited

Two plates

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