The Metro Vancouver region of southwestern British Columbia (B.C.) lies at the forefront of the North American plate. On the western edge of the North American plate, the Juan de Fuca plate is subducting beneath and slowly deforming the continent. The dynamic geological setting makes this densely populated region susceptible to frequent seismic activity and increases the risk of disastrous megathrust earthquakes. The Metro Vancouver region is surrounded by the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean making it somewhat isolated and vulnerable in the event of a large earthquake. The region plays a large role in the well-being of the Canadian economy. Key facilities include the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and the shipping ports which serve as economic passageways to the region. Recent megathrust earthquakes, such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, have brought up new concerns about seismic hazards and preparedness of the Metro Vancouver region. The objective of this web-atlas is to create awareness and educate the general public about the megathrust earthquake risk in Metro Vancouver. To evaluate such risk, the web-atlas contains four interactive maps including a Tectonic Settings Map, a Physical Vulnerability Map, a Human Vulnerability Map, and a Risk Mitigation Map.

About the Authors


Youn C. Jeong is a 4th year student
working towards a Business Major and
a Geography Minor.


Leona Christie is a 4th year Computing Science
student working towards a Geographic Information
Systems Major.

This web-atlas was created for Geography 351 course at Simon Fraser University. Instructor: Dr. Suzana Dragicevic Teaching Assistant: Richard Minardi

Metro Vancouver's Tectonic Setting

The dynamic geological setting of southwestern British Columbia (B.C.) allows for frequent seismic activity and puts Metro Vancouver at a higher risk of large damaging earthquakes than in other parts of Canada. The animation on left depicts the different tectonic plates surrounding Metro Vancouver and the dynamic processes they are currently undergoing.

Key Facts about Metro Vancouver's Tectonic Setting

  • Approximately 200 km off the shores of Vancouver, the oceanic Juan de Fuca plate is moving eastward at 2 - 6 cm per year beneath the continental North American plate. At the same time, the North American plate is moving westward along a convergent plate boundary known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) (Dosso & Nienaber, 1985).
  • The two plates are currently locked together causing rocks to deform and build up strain in the earth's crust. The outer section of the North American plate is being pulled downward, whereas the inner portion is being uplifted (Hyndman & Wang, 1995).
  • When a slip occurs along the interface of the two locked plates, an earthquake called a subduction interface earthquake occurs and it is this type of earthquake that is often referred to as a "megathrust" event.
  • An earthquake in this region is associated with a moment magnitude (M) larger than 8.0 with shaking lasting about 2 - 3 minutes. This could cause extensive damage from BC all the way down the coast to California. (Seeman et al, 2011)

Coordinate System: NAD 1983 UTM Zone 10N
Projection: Transerse Mercator
Datum: North American 1983
Data Source: SFU Department of Geography Data Warehouse (retrieved: November 2012)

The Physical Vulnerability Map displays different natural hazards that may be triggered by a megathrust earthquake including liquefaction, landslides, and flooding. Click on any natural hazard button to view the corresponding areas at risk in Metro Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver is the center of major urban development in British Columbia and is the home of many different industries that help support the economy of the entire region as well as the country. The Human Vulnerability Map examines the risk of damage to human infrastructures including airports, bridges, electrical transmission line, ferry terminals, highway, ports, railways, and the SkyTrain line. Click on any human infrastructure button to view its corresponding location. Detailed descriptions of earthquake-triggered damage to the infrastructures are also provided with the human and economic consequences.

Disaster Response Route (DRR)

In the event of a megathrust earthquake, Metro Vancouver will be in a state of emergency. Disaster Response Routes (DDRs) are pre-identified routes that allow for the fastest and safest movement of emergency services and supplies to areas they are needed the most. Some of the emergency services provided by disaster response personnel include:

  • transporting and treating sick and injured people
  • maintaining law and order
  • putting out fires
  • rescuing trapped people
  • restoring water supply
  • restoring electricity supply
  • maintaining traffic control

There are two types of DRRs: Local (Municipal) DRRs and Provincial (Ministry of Transportation) DRRs. Following a declaration of a local or provincial state of emergency, only designated disaster responders and suppliers with valid DRR identification are allowed to use the DRR routes. The routes will be activated for only as long as they are needed. The public is encouraged to listen to the radio and television for public service announcements regarding which DRRs have been activated.

Information regarding DRRs presented here along with additional information can be found on the Government of British Columbia's website.

red MoT Disaster Response Route   purple Municipal Disaster Response Route

note: data presented on map is an approximation

Air Medical Net. (2011). Earthquakes Can Affect Aircraft, Airports, Runway. Retrieved from

BC Ferries. (2012). Safety FIRST. Retrieved from

British Columbia. (2012). Disaster Response Route Maps. Retrieved from

Byrne, P., Anderson, D., Atukorala, U. & Joseph, A. (1987). Seismic risk at Vancouver International Airport. Fifth Canadian Conference on Earthquake Engineering, 577-586.

City of Vancouver. (2011). Vancouverís Earthquake Preparedness: Infrastrcuture Building Emergency Management Urban Search & Rescue. Retrieved from

Clague, J. (2002). The Earthquake Threat in Southwestern British Columbia: A Geologic Perspective. Natural Hazards, 26, 7-34, doi: 10.1023/A:1015208408485. Retrieved from

Dosso, H. & Nienaber, W. (1986). A laboratory electromagnetic study of the Juan de Fuca Plate region. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 43(1), 34-46.

Giuliano, G. & Golob, J. (1998). Impacts of the Northridge Earthquake on Transit and Highway Use. Journal of Transportation and Statistics. Retrieved from

Hyndman, R. & Wang, K. (1995). The rupture zone of Cascadia great earthquakes from current deformation and the thermal regime. Journal of Geophysical Research, 100(B11), 22,       133-22, 154, doi: 10.1029/95JB01970.

Scawthorn, C., Eidinger, J., & Schiff, A. (2005). Fire Following Earthquake. American Society of Civil Engineers. Retrieved from

Seeman, M., Onur, T., & Fisher, D. (2011). Earthquake shaking probabilities for communities on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Natural Hazards, 58, 1253-1273.

Sound Bible. (2012). Earthquake Sound. Retrieved from

Thomson, R., Bornhold, B., & Mazzotti, S. (2008). An Examination of the Factors Affecting Relative and Absolute Sea Level in Coastal British Columbia. Canadian Technical Report of       Hydrography and Ocean Sciences, 260: v + 49p. Retrieved from

TransLink. (2012). SkyTrain. Retrieved from