Investigation of late Quaternary fault block uplift along the Motagua/Swan Islands fault system: Implications for seismic/tsunami hazard for the Bay of Honduras


Uplifted and warped coastal landforms (fossil coral reef and beachrock, wave-cut and beach terraces) on the western part of Roatan Island off the northern Honduran coast record at least two late Holocene earthquakes that we estimate to have had magnitudes of > M7. Uplift has been primarily related to a fault that follows the southern coast of western Roatan, herein termed the "Flowers Bay fault", a subsidiary fault of the Motagua/Swan Islands Fault System which marks the boundary between the North American and Caribbean plates. Using electron spin resonance (ESR) and radiocarbon ages of calcium carbonate samples and a late Quaternary sea level elevation curve that is compatible with Caribbean sea level data, we constrain the ages and long-term uplift rates of the displaced landforms on Roatan caused by the vertical component of slip on the Flowers Bay fault. The fossil reef that is uplifted along the fault grew between 43 and 34 ka, and the beachrock horizon and lowest uplifted terrace along the southern and western coasts developed between 1000 and 1700 AD. We describe evidence of one earthquake that raised the south coast ~ 3 m (as much as 5 m locally) and that post-dates 1700 AD. We interpret this event to be the great earthquake of August 1856 that generated a tsunami which ran as much as 24 km onto the mainland. Another earthquake circa 900 AD produced a similar amount of uplift as the 1856 event and likely generated a similar tsunami. The age and elevation of the fossil reef suggest a long-term uplift rate of 3 mm/year, consistent with a recurrence interval of ~ 1000 years for these large earthquakes. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Publication Title