Geotechnical and Surface Wave Investigation of the Great M 7.9 Denali Fault Earthquake of 3 November 2002
Following the Mw 7.9 earthquake on the Denali and Totschunda faults, we conducted two investigations to map the regional extent and severity of liquefaction ground failures and assess the geotechnical properties of these sites, as well as profile the soil properties beneath three seismometers located at Alyeska Pump Stations 9, 10, and 11. The most noteworthy observations are that liquefaction damage was focused towards the eastern end of the rupture area. For example, liquefaction features in the river bars of the Tanana River, north of the fault-break, are sparsely located from Fairbanks to Delta, but are pervasive throughout the eastern area of the break to Northway Junction, the eastern limit of our survey. Likewise, for the four glacier-proximal rivers draining toward the north, little or no liquefaction was observed on the western Delta and Johnson Rivers, whereas the eastern Robertson River and non-glacial Tok River, and especially the Nabesna River, had observable-to-abundant fissures and sand vents.
Several rivers systems were studied in detail. The Nabesna River emerges from its glacier, and drains and fines northward as it crosses the fault zone resulting in an asymmetrical liquefaction pattern. South of the fault, falling liquefaction resistance of soil (fining from sandy gravel to gravely sand) and rising loads from ground motions (approaching the fault) abruptly intersect such that there is a well defined, narrow, transition from undisturbed-to-fully liquefied soil approximately 5 kilometers from the fault. North of the fault, both liquefaction resistance (continued fining) and ground motions fall in tandem, leaving a much broader zone of liquefaction. The Delta River liquefaction occurrence is more complex, where side-entering glacial rivers form non-liquefiable gravel fans and alter the composition and compactness of the main-stem deposits. Immediately upstream of the gravelly Canwell glacier tributary, and inponded sediment immediately south of the fault crossing, liquefaction features are abundant. To characterize soil properties, we used a portable continuous harmonic wave-spectral analysis of surface waves (SASW) apparatus to profile the shear wave velocity of the ground, and an auger to profile the corresponding texture of the river deposits. We occupied 25 liquefaction evaluation test sites and three Alyeska Trans-Alaska pump station seismometer sites. On the Nabesna, Delta and other rivers, we only find liquefaction features in soil deposits where normalized shear wave velocities fall below 225 m/s. Severity of fissures and lateral spreads dramatically increase in soils as the velocities fall, especially below 170 m/s. In some cases, the most pronounced ground failures are far from the fault zone (60-100 km) in extremely loose, low velocity fine sands. Geotechnical testing performed on field samples revealed that liquefied soils ranged from well graded sandy gravels in close proximity to the fault (< 5km) to silty sands and low plasticity silts at greater distances. At the Alyeska pump station seismometer sites, we are able to invert profiles of shear wave velocity to depths of 140-200 meters. The averaged NEHRP (30 meter) velocities for pump stations 9, 10, and 11 are 376 m/s, 316 m/s, and 362 m/s, respectively. For example, liquefaction features in the river bars of the Tanana River, north of the fault-break, are sparsely located from Fairbanks to Delta, but are pervasive throughout the eastern area of the break to Northway Junction, the eastern limit of our survey. Likewise, for the four glacier-proximal rivers draining toward the north, little or no liquefaction was observed on the western Delta and Johnson Rivers, whereas the eastern Robertson River and non-glacial Tok River, and especially the Nabesna River, had observable-to-abundant fissures and sand vents.
maintained by Diane Minasian
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last modified 6 January 2005
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Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Division Coastal & Marine Geology Program
Western Region Coastal & Marine Geology