Dendrochronological dating of landslides in western Oregon: Searching for signals of the Cascadia A.D. 1700 earthquake

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Large-magnitude earthquakes and hydrologic events in mountainous settings commonly trigger thousands of landslides, and slope failures typically constitute a significant proportion of the damage associated with these events. Large, dormant deep-seated landslides are ubiquitous in the Oregon Coast Range, western United States, yet a method for calculating landslide ages with the precision required to diagnose a specific triggering event, including the A.D. 1700 Cascadia earthquake, has remained elusive. Establishing a compelling connection between prehistoric slope instability and specific triggers requires landslide ages with precision greater than that provided by 14C dating of detrital materials. Tree-ring analysis is the only known method capable of determining landslide age with this precision. Dozens of landslide-dammed lakes in western Oregon present an opportunity to use tree rings from drowned snags, or “ghost forests,” to establish the year of death, and thus landsliding. We cross-dated tree-ring indices from drowned Douglas fir trees with live tree-ring records from the Oregon Coast Range that exhibit synchronous, time-specific patterns due to regional climate variations. Our analyses determined that the landslides responsible for creating Wasson and Klickitat Lakes occurred in A.D. 1819 and 1751, respectively. The 14C dates from selected tree rings and landslide deposit detritus are consistent with our tree-ring analysis, although the ages exhibit high variability, revealing the limitations of using 14C dating alone. Because dendrochronology provides annual precision for landsliding, sampling of tree rings at additional landslide-dammed lakes throughout the Oregon Coast Range can be used to constrain the potential effects of ground motion and major storms on Cascadia landscapes.


This article was originally published in GSA Bulletin. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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