Space geodetic evidence for rapid strain rates in the New Madrid seismic zone of central USA


In the winter of 1811-1812, near the town of New Madrid in the central United States and more than 2,000 km from the nearest plate boundary, three earthquakes within three months shook the entire eastern half of the country and liquefied the ground over distances far greater than any historic earthquake in North America. The origin and modern significance of these earthquakes, however, is highly contentious. Geological evidence, demonstrates that liquefaction due to strong ground shaking, similar in scale to that generated by the New Madrid earthquakes, has occurred at least three and possibly four times in the past 2,000 years (refs 4-6), consistent with recurrence statistics derived from regional seismicity. Here we show direct evidence for rapid strain rates in the area determined from a continuously operated global positioning system (GPS) network. Rates of strain are of the order of 10-7 per year, comparable in magnitude to those across active plate boundaries, and are consistent with known active faults within the region. These results have significant implications for the definition of seismic hazard and for processes that drive intraplate seismicity.

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