Tsunami, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Volcanic Eruptions and other Natural and Man-Made Hazards and Disasters - by Dr. George Pararas Carayannis

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The Earthquake and Tsunami of October 4, 1994 in the Kuril Islands

George Pararas-Carayannis

Introduction

A major earthquake (magnitude Ms 8.1) occurred near Shikotan Island, in the South Kuril Island Group of Russia's Far East, at 13:23 UTC, October 4, 1994 (0:23 a.m. Oct. 5, local time). The quake was extensively damaging in the Kuril Islands, killing 11 people and injuring 242. It caused several landslides and generated a destructive tsunami. 8 people died from the direct effects of the tsunami.

. It was a sudden event, without any short- term precursors or foreshocks. The slides in this set show views of a newly-created landslide formation, ground cracks, structural damage, and effects of tsunami runup on Shikotan Island. The documentation is a scientific overview of this event, written by a member of the international team that studied it.

Regional and Pacific wide warnings were issued for the Kuril Islands, Japan, the Hawaiian Islands and the west coast of Canada and the United States. The area most affected by local damaging tsunami waves were primarily Shikotan, Kunashir, Iturup, of the South Kuril Island Group, and Hokkaido, Japan.


Tsunami runup height measurements were made in Shikotan, Iturup, Kunashir, and small islands between Shikotan and Hokkaido by a team of international scientists. Maximum runup on Shikotan Island was determined to be approximately 10 m high. However none of the reported casualties was attributed to the direct effects of the tsunami.

Epicenter and Focal Depth

The earthquake epicenter epicenter was offshore, about 80 km east southeast of Shikotan Island at 43.668 N, 147.333
Its focal depth was shallow (less than 33 km).

Epicenter of the October 4, 1994 Earthquake - Approximate Area of Tsunami Generation

Aftershocks

Many aftershocks followed the main shock, the largest (magnitude 7.2) occured on Oct 9, 1994 (07:56 UTC) with epicenter near that of the major event. Periodic aftershocks continued for several weeks. The distribution of major afterhocks was within the elliptical area in the map - which also approximates the tsunami generating area.

Ground Motions

The earthquake was associated with very strong ground motions which were particularly intense on Shikotan Island - one of the South Kuril Islands located nearest the epicenter. Maximum earthquake intensity was estimated to be between 9 and 10 on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.

The quake's strong motions caused several large gaping fissures and landslides. At Shikotan Island, there was approximately 50 cm of subsidence and major fissure formations were observed. Near Malokurils, on Shikotan, the main fissure was approximately 350 m long and as much as 60 m wide.

Earthquake Effects - Deaths and Damage

The quake killed 11 people, injured 242 and caused moderate damage in the Kuril Islands. Eight casualties were due to the tsunami which had significant runup (approximately 10 m high runup was measured on Shikotan Island). The earthquake's strong ground motions damaged many oil storage tanks on Shikotan and resulted in leakage of oil and significant adverse environmental impact.

Surprisingly, the casualty toll and damages were light for an earthquake of this magnitude (Ms 8.1). The low casualties are attributed to the low population density in the region and the fact that the earthquake occurred at night, when people were at home. Also, most of the residential houses in this area are constructed of wood - thus less vulnerable to strong earthquake motions. Most of the damage occurred to inadequately reinforced masonry structures.

In Hokkaido, Japan, one person was killed and 140 were injured.

Tectonic Setting of the Northern Japan/Kuril Island Region

The Kuril island arc is located between the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Kuril Trench has been formed by the subduction of the Pacific plate under the North American plate. It extends from the offshore central area of Kamchatka to Hokkaido.

The plate tectonics of the Southern Kuril islands-Northern Hokkaido region are quite complex and very different than those along the southern portion of the Japanese Trench. The South Kuril Islands are part of the Kuril arc in the Okhotsk plate which has been colliding westward against the Northeast Japan arc, along the Hidaka Collision Zone (HCZ), where new continental crust is created by active arc-arc collision.

Deep seismic reflection studies (Ito, Kazuka @Abe, 2001) show the lower crust of the Kuril arc to be delaminated at a depth of about 23 km. These studies indicate that the upper half (above 23 km) - consisting of the earth's upper crust and the upper portion of lower crust of the Kuril arc - is thrusting over the Northeast Japan arc along the Hidaka Main Thrust (HMT). However, the lower half (below 23 km) - consisting of the lower portion of lower crust and upper mantle material - is descending downward.

As a result of such kinematic processes, the wedge of the Northeast Japan arc is intruded into the delaminated Kuril arc, as the Pacific plate is subducting northward beneath both of the above mentioned structures, thus continuing the arc-arc collision (and continental crust production). The complex, seismo- tectonic kinematic process of this region has been named "Delamination-wedge-subduction system" - which may apply also to other areas where active arc-arc collision and concurrent subduction take place.

Specifically, the October 4, 1994 earthquake (as the October 12, 1963 earthquake) ocurred at the Pacific side boundary of the Kuril arc (the South Kuril Islands) of the Okhotsk plate. This region is characterized by large earthquakes (such as the 1963 and 1994 events), but with lesser vertical subduction and greater rotational movement - as the North Pacific Plate grinds against it. The whole area appears to be highly fractured by complex tectonic interactions and the crustal displacements appear to be ocurring along the boundaries of broken subplates that may not be longer than 200-250 Km. The Kuril Backarc Basin is a deep basin in southern Sea of Okhotsk northwest of Kuril arc. These fractured smaller plates, near this tectonically active arc - arc collision area, appear to limit the extent of crustal displacements. This is the reason why large magnitude earthquakes in this region have generated only locally destructive - and not Pacific-wide - tsunamis.

The Sea of Japan, is a complex basin between Japan and the Korea/Okhotsk Sea Basin. It represents another subplate with apparent rotational movement as it interacts against the Okhotsk plate, along the inland sea boundary of the Hidaka Collision Zone (HCZ). Sakhalin island , north of Hokkaido, which separates the Sea of Japan from the Sea of Okhotsk is probably the result of transpressional tectonics along the North America-Eurasia boundary. T he 1983 earthquake and tsunami in the Sea of Japan occured south of the boundary of these interacting subplates (Pararas-Carayannis, 1995). Hokkaido - Japan's northernmost island - extends northeast into Kuril Islands and is composed of multiple compressed island arcs. The northern half of Honshu (north of Tokyo), which is Japan's main island, represents a typical mature island arc, with the Pacific plate subducting below the North American plate, while the southern half of the island represents also a typical mature island arc, as the Philippine Sea plate subducts below the Eurasian plate.

The Tsunami of October 4, 1994 in the Kuril Islands

The October 4, 1994 earthquake generated a destructive, local tsunami which struck the coastlines, primarily near the epicentral region in the southern Kuril Islands. Tsunami waves with runups ranging up to 10 meters (30 feet) were reported.

Because of the large earthquake magnitude and the known tsunamicity of the area, regional and Pacific-wide warnings were issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu , for the Kuril Islands, Japan, the Hawaiian Islands, and the west coast of Canada and the United States. Regional Warning Centers in Russia and Japan also issued regional tsunami warnings. However, the tsunami was destructive only near the area of generation. Only a small tsunami was observed or recorded at distant locations in the Pacific.

Tsunami Recordings and Observations locally and at Distant Locations


Kuril Islands - Most affected by damaging waves were the islands of Shikotan, Kunashir and Iturup, in the South Kurils. According to reports, Shikotan Island was one of the hardest-hit areas by both the earthquake and the tsunami. Following the disaster, a team of international scientists made measurements of tsunami runup heights at Shikotan, Iturup, Kunashir, and the small islands between Shikotan and Hokkaido (Yeh et al, 1995). Maximum runup on Shikotan Island was reported to be approximately 10 m (about 30 feet) high.

Since the South Kuril Island region has a long history of many large, local tsunamis, the people in this region were fairly well prepared. This probably accounts for the low death toll for the October 4, 1994 tsunami- in spite of its high runup (Pararas-Carayannis, 1995).

Map of Kunashir Island

Kunsashir Island - At Kuzhno-Kurilsk, tsunami waves ranged in height from 2.5 to 3.0 m. penetrated 200-500 m inland damaging and destroying houses.


Japan - The areas most affected were Kushiro, Hachinohe, Chichijima and Hanasaki, on the island of Hokkaido. One person was killed and 140 more were injured. Runup measurements along the Hokkaido coast were carried out by a team of scientists from Japan's Tohoku University (Takahashi and Shuto, 1994). An approximately 1.8 m tsunami runup was reported in Nemuro.


Hawaiian Islands - The tsunami waves were not damaging in Hawaii but were readily recorded by tide gauges. The highest recorded wave at Midway I. was 0.54 meters (peak to trough) and in Kahului, Maui, 0.8 meters (peak to trough).

Tsunami Damage at Kunashir Island

Area flooded by the tsunami at Yuzhno-Kurilsk. Tsunami waves propagated up the river, destroyed the bridge in the foreground and damaged structures. The small building on its side just above the destroyed bridge was carried by the waves 500 m from its original site (Photo by A. Korablev)

The tsunami at Yuzhno-Kurilsk damaged a dock and sunk boats (Photo by A. Klochkov)

The tsunami carried this ship 70 m inland (Photo by Yuri Korolyov)

The Generating Area of the October 4, 1994 Tsunami


Based on the earthquake aftershock distribution, the tsunami generating area was estimated to be approximately 120 by 150 kilometers.

Maximum measured subsidence at Shikotan Island was only 50 cm . This was surprising given the earthquake's large magnitude.

Many things were learned from this particular event about the plate tectonics of the region and the potential of tsunami generation in the Southern Kuril islands-Northern Hokkaido area (see section above about the tectonic setting of the region). The dimensions of fissures on Shikotan Island (main fissure mear Malokurils was as much as 60 m wide) suggest small vertical but extensive lateral crustal displacements. There were also many similarities in magnitude and epicenter location of this 1994 event with another quake which had occurred on 12 October 1963, and had a major aftershock om 19 October 1963 (Pararas-Carayannis, 1995). In spite of their similar great magnitudes, these past quakes also generated destructive local tsunamis only. Their effects at distant Pacific locations were also minor.

Fault and Azimuthal Orientation of the Tsunamigenic Area

The fault length was estimated to be about 120-150 km long. The orientation of the tsunamigenic area was approximately N55W.

 

Tsunamigenic Potential along the Japan Trench in the Hokkaido/Kuril Island Region

Subduction along the Japanese Trench has been primarily responsible for many large historical earthquakes and catastrophic tsunamis on the Pacific side of the Northern Japan/South Kuril island region (see also section above about the tectonic setting of the inland sea basins). Tectonic movements in the inland Seas of Japan and of Okhtsok have also been responsible for large earthquakes and tsunamis but their effects have been confined to the immediate area (i.e. May 25, 1983 Northern Japan Sea tsunami).

The October 4, 1994 tsunami - like that of October 12, 1963 - ocurred on the Pacific side boundary of a smaller tectonic subplate which includes the Sea of Okhotsk and possibly a portion of the northern part of the Sea of Japan (Pararas-Carayannis, 1995). Apparently, the grinding motion of the North Pacific Plate against this subplate, results in large earthquakes - such as those of 1963 and 1994 - but apparently with less vertical subduction and more rotational movement. For example, the 1994 quake resulted in only about 50 cm of land subsidence but in extensive lateral movement at Shikotan Island. A greater amount of subsidence would have been expected, given the earthquake's large magnitude.

The crustal area in the Southern Kuril Islands and Northern Hokkaido, along the northern part of the Japanese Trench, appears to be highly fractured. As described previously, the South Kuril Islands are part of the Kuril arc in the Okhotsk plate which has been aslo colliding westward against the Northeast Japan arc, along the Hidaka Collision Zone (HCZ), where new continental crust is created by active arc-arc collision. Crustal displacements appear to be ocurring along these boundaries of highly fractured subplates that may not be longer than 250-300 km. Also, it appears that these fractured smaller plates limit the extent of crustal displacements and, therefore, the energy imparted for tsunami generation. The historical record supports this as well. This and the shallower focal depths may be the reasons why very large magnitude earthquakes in this region have produced tsunamis which have been only locally destructive.

Past Earthquakes and Tsunamis in the Northern Japan/Kuril Island Region (since 1963)

Review of the historic record indicates that the following tsunamis were generated in recent years near Kamtchatka, the Kuril Islands, Northern Japan and the Sea of Japan:

October 13, 1963 - Kuril Islands (MS=8.1, I=2.5) - Urup tsunami.

June 16, 1964 - Sea of Japan - (MS=7.5) - Niigata tsunami (26 dead).

August 11, 1969 - Kuril Islands (MS=7.8, I=2.0) - Shikotan tsunamis.

November 22, 1969 - Kamchatka (MS=7.7, I =3.0) - Ozernoy tsunami.

May 25, 1983 - Northern part of Sea of Japan (MS= 7.7) - (104 dead).

January 15, 1993 - Japan / Hokkaido (MS=7.8) - Kushiro tsunami, one dead.

July 12, 1993 - Japan Sea (MS=7.7, I=3.0) - Okushiri tsunami ( Maximum Wave Height 30.2m) (more than 200 dead).

October 4, 1994 - South Kuril Islands/Northern Japan Hokkaido(MS=8.1, I=2.6) - Shikotan tsunami (8 dead in Kuril Islands).

Similarities of the October 4, 1994 Earthquake and Tsunami with the October 12, 1963 Event

Reference to the historical Tsunami data (Iida, Cox, Pararas-Carayannis, 1968) indicates that there has never been a Pacific-wide tsunami threat, even from the largest earthquakes in the Northern Hokkaido or the Kuril Island region; only local damaging tsunamis have been generated. A comparison between the earthquakes and tsunamis of October 4, 1994 and October 12, 1963, shows many similarities. Both were very similar in magnitude and epicenter location and affected the same region (Northern Hokkaido, Kuril islands). Although both of these two events generated large and damaging local tsunamis, neither generated a damaging Pacific-wide tsunami.

Oct 4, 1994

Magnitude 8.2 / Epicenter 43.668 N, 147.333 E / Depth: 33 km / Time 0:323 UTC

(Area Affected by local damaging tsunamis: South Kuril Islands (Shikotan, Kunashir, Iturup, etc.)

Japan: Hanasaki, Kushiro, Hachinohe, Chichijima

Highest Recorded at Midway I.- 0.54 meters (peak to trough)
Highest in Hawaii: Kahului 0.8 meters (peak to trough)

PTWC issued Pacific-wide Tsunami Warning

Oct 12, 1963

Magnitude 8.2 / Epicenter 44.8 N , 149.5 E / Depth: 33 km / Time 05:18 UTC

(Area Affected by local damaging tsunamis: South Kuril Islands (Urup, Shikotan, Kunashir, Urup, Iturup, Paramushir, etc )

Japan: Hanasaki, Kushiro, Hachinohe,Chichijima

Highest Recorded at Midway I. - 0.3 meters adjusted to 0.6 meters peak to trough
Highest in Hawaii - Kahului 0.4 meters adjusted to 0.8 meters peak to trough

PTWC issued Pacific-wide Tsunami Warning

Similarities - There are similarities in magnitude, and epicenter location. There is overlap in tsunami generation area. Tsunami heights and damage in immediate area are very similar. Both tsunamis recorded similarly at the Midway Island. The Kahului tide gauge recordings were the highest for both events in the Hawaiian islands.

Comparison of the two major aftershocks of the above events.

Oct 9, 1994

Magnitude 7.2 / Epicenter Same approximate location as major quake / Depth: Shallow /Time 0756 UTC

(Area probably affected by local tsunamis: South Kuril Islands, unknown height but expected to be small

Japan: Hanasaki (9cm), Kushiro (3cm),

Highest Recorded at Midway I.: unknown
Highest in Hawaii: unknown
PTWC did not issue a Watch or a Warning.

 

Oct 19, 1963

Magnitude 6. 75-7 / Epicenter 44.7 N 150.7 E / Depth: 33 km / Time 00:53 UTC

(Area Affected by small observed or recorded local tsunamis: South Kuril Islands (Urup, Shikotan, Kunashir, Urup, Iturup, Paramushir)


Japan: Recorded or observed at Hanasaki, Kushiro, Hachinohe,Chichijima

Highest Recorded at Midway I. 0.2 meters adjusted to 0.4 meters peak to trough
Highest in Hawaii: Kahului 0.4 meters adjusted to 0,8 meters peak to trough

PTWC issued a Pacific-wide Tsunami Warning

Comparison with the Great Sanriku Earthquake and Tsunami of 1933


Even the great Sanriku earthquake of 1933 - which generated a very destructive local tsunami in Japan - did not generate a damaging tsunami elsewhere in the Pacific. The origin of the 1933 tsunami had been near the island of Honshu (quake epicenter at 39.1 N. , 144.7 E.), approximately 300 nautical miles south and 120 nautical miles westward of the October 4, 1994 event . This southern region of the Japanese Trench is characterized by much greater vertical subduction. Yet, in spite of the greater vertical crustal movement and the more optimal orientation of the tsunami generating area - and even though greater amount of energy radiated unobstructed towards Hawaii and the Eastern Pacific - the maximum tsunami oscillation anywhere in the Pacific from the 1933 Sanriku event was at Crescent City, California, where a 1.1 meter (4 ft) wave was recorded.

Summary and Conclusions

Based on this review and comparisons, the following general conclusions can be drawn:

The October 4, 1994 earthquake occurred along a seismic region that has generated many large local destructive tsunamis in the past. It ocurred at the Pacific side boundary of the Kuril arc (the South Kuril Islands) of the Okhotsk plate. This region is characterized by large earthquakes but with lesser vertical subduction and greater rotational movement. The area appears to be highly fractured by complex tectonic interactions and the crustal displacements appear to be ocurring along the boundaries of broken subplates that may not be longer than 200-250 Km. These fractured smaller plates, near this tectonically active arc - arc collision area, appear to limit the extent of crustal displacements. This is the reason why large magnitude earthquakes in this region have generated only locally destructive - and not Pacific-wide - tsunamis.

REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY ON THE OCTOBER 4, 1994 EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI IN THE KURIL ISLANDS

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BIBLIOGRAPHY ON THE SEISMOTECTONICS OF THE KURIL ISLAND/HOKKAIDO REGION



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