THE Cascadia subduction zone, a region of converging tectonic plates along the Pacific coast of North America, has a geological history of very large plate-boundary earthquakes1,2, but no such earthquakes have struck this region since Euro-American settlement about 150 years ago. Geophysical estimates of the moment magnitudes (Mw) of the largest such earthquakes range from 8 (ref. 3).to 91/2 (ref. 4). Radiocarbon dating of earthquake-killed vegetation can set upper bounds on earthquake size by constraining the length of plate boundary that ruptured in individual earthquakes. Such dating has shown that the most recent rupture, or series of ruptures, extended at least 55 km along the Washington coast within a period of a few decades about 300 years ago5. Here we report 85 new 14C ages, which suggest that this most recent rupture (or series) extended at least 900 km between southern British Columbia and northern California. By comparing the 14C ages with written records of the past 150 years, we conclude that a single magnitude 9 earthquake, or a series of lesser earthquakes, ruptured most of the length of the Cascadia subduction zone between the late 1600s and early 1800s, and probably in the early 1700s.
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Radiocarbon evidence for extensive plate-boundary rupture about 300 years ago at the Cascadia subduction zone