Submarine landslides along the continental slope of the U.S. Atlantic margin are potential sources for tsunamis along the U.S. East coast. The magnitude of potential tsunamis depends on the volume and location of the landslides, and tsunami frequency depends on their recurrence interval. However, the size and recurrence interval of submarine landslides along the U.S. Atlantic margin is poorly known. Well-studied landslide-generated tsunamis in other parts of the world have been shown to be associated with earthquakes. Because the size distribution and recurrence interval of earthquakes is generally better known than those for submarine landslides, we propose here to estimate the size and recurrence interval of submarine landslides from the size and recurrence interval of earthquakes in the near vicinity of the said landslides. To do so, we calculate maximum expected landslide size for a given earthquake magnitude, use recurrence interval of earthquakes to estimate recurrence interval of landslide, and assume a threshold landslide size that can generate a destructive tsunami. The maximum expected landslide size for a given earthquake magnitude is calculated in 3 ways: by slope stability analysis for catastrophic slope failure on the Atlantic continental margin, by using land-based compilation of maximum observed distance from earthquake to liquefaction, and by using land-based compilation of maximum observed area of earthquake-induced landslides. We find that the calculated distances and failure areas from the slope stability analysis is similar or slightly smaller than the maximum triggering distances and failure areas in subaerial observations. The results from all three methods compare well with the slope failure observations of the Mw = 7.2, 1929 Grand Banks earthquake, the only historical tsunamigenic earthquake along the North American Atlantic margin. The results further suggest that a Mw = 7.5 earthquake (the largest expected earthquake in the eastern U.S.) must be located offshore and within 100??km of the continental slope to induce a catastrophic slope failure. Thus, a repeat of the 1755 Cape Anne and 1881 Charleston earthquakes are not expected to cause landslides on the continental slope. The observed rate of seismicity offshore the U.S. Atlantic coast is very low with the exception of New England, where some microseismicity is observed. An extrapolation of annual strain rates from the Canadian Atlantic continental margin suggests that the New England margin may experience the equivalent of a magnitude 7 earthquake on average every 600-3000??yr. A minimum triggering earthquake magnitude of 5.5 is suggested for a sufficiently large submarine failure to generate a devastating tsunami and only if the epicenter is located within the continental slope.
Additional publication details
Assessment of tsunami hazard to the U.S. East Coast using relationships between submarine landslides and earthquakes