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Professional Paper 543–C

Gravity Survey and Regional Geology of the Prince William Sound Epicentral Region, Alaska

By J.E. Case, D.F. Barnes, George Plafker, and S.L. Robbins

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF 9.1 MB)Abstract

Sedimentary and volcanic rocks of Mesozoic and early Tertiary age form a roughly arcuate pattern in and around Prince William Sound, the epicentral region of the Alaska earthquake of 1964. These rocks include the Valdez Group, a predominantly slate and graywacke sequence of Jurassic and Cretaceous age, and the Orca Group, a younger sequence of early Tertiary age. The Orca consists of a lower unit of dense-average 2.87 g per cm3 (grams per cubic centimeter) pillow basalt and greenstone intercalated with sedimentary rocks and an upper unit of lithologically variable sandstone interbedded with siltstone or argillite. Densities of the clastic rocks in both the Valdez and Orca Groups average about 2.69 g per cm3. Granitic rocks of relatively low density (2.62 g per cm3) cut the Valdez and Orca Groups at several localities.

Both the Valdez and the Orca Groups were complexly folded and extensively faulted during at least three major episodes of deformation: an early period of Cretaceous or early Tertiary orogeny, a second orogeny that probably culminated in late Eocene or early Oligocene time and was accompanied or closely followed by emplacement of granitic batholiths, and a third episode of deformation that began in late Cenozoic time and continued intermittently to the present.

About 500 gravity stations were established in the Prince William Sound region in conjunction with postearthquake geologic investigations. Simple Bouguer anomaly contours trend approximately parallel to the arcuate geologic structure around the sound. Bouguer anomalies decrease northward from +40 mgal (milligals) at the southwestern end of Montague Island to -70 mgal at College and Harriman Fiords. Most of this change may be interpreted as a regional gradient caused by thickening of the continental crust. Superimposed on the gradient is a prominent gravity high of as much as 65 mgal that extends from Elrington Island on the southwest, across Knight and Glacier Islands to the Ellamar Peninsula and Valdez on the northeast. This high coincides with the wide belt of greenstone and pillow basalt of the Orca Group and largely reflects the high density of these volcanic rocks. A large low in the east-central part of the sound is inferred to have a composite origin, and results from the combined effects of low-density sedimentary and granitic rocks.

The Prince William Sound gravity high extends southwest-northeast without major horizontal offset for more than 100 miles. Thus the belt of volcanic rocks causing the high constitutes a major virtually continuous, geologic element of south-central Alaska.

First posted October 23, 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:

Case, J.E., Barnes, D.F., Plafker, G., and Robbins, S.L., 1966, Gravity survey and regional geology of the Prince William Sound epicentral region, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 543–C, 12 p.,






References Cited

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