Map: Country Drained by the Mississippi, 1823, Stephen Long

New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ)

Geology of the NMSZ

Earthquake-Induced Liquefaction of the NMSZ

Paleoseismology: Digging up the Past

Paleoseismology of the New Madrid Seismic Zone

Archeology and New Madrid Paleoseismology

Paleoseismology and Earthquake Hazard Mapping



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Background map courtesy Cartography Associates: Edwin James and Stephen Long, Country drained by the Mississippi, Eastern Section, 1822. Carey and Lea Philadelphia.

Over the past decade, paleoseismic studies have begun to unravel the earthquake history of the New Madrid seismic zone. Studies focusing on earthquake-induced liquefaction features utilized archeology and radiocarbon dating to estimate the ages of liquefaction features, and thus, the timing of the earthquakes that caused them. In this way, sand blows across the New Madrid region were found to have formed during earthquakes about 1450 A.D., 900 A.D., 300 A.D., and 2350 B.C.

Earthquake chronology for New Madrid seismic zone from dating and correlation of liquefaction features at sites (listed at top) along NE-SW transect. Some sites show age estimates for more than one feature related to different events (e.g., Eaker 2 and L2). Inferred timing of events is shown with colored bands.

In addition, the size and spatial distributions of historic and sand blows that formed about 1450 A.D. and 900 A.D. were determined to be strikingly similar to each other, suggesting that the prehistoric earthquakes had similar locations and magnitudes to the 1811-1812 earthquakes. Furthermore, sand blows attributed to the 1450 A.D., 900 A.D., and 2350 B.C. earthquakes are composed of multiple, fining upward layers similar in thickness to those that formed in 1811-1812. These observations support the interpretation that the prehistoric events were similar in location and magnitude to the 1811-1812 earthquakes and also suggests that they too were earthquake sequences. Paleoseismic studies concluded that the New Madrid seismic zone generated magnitude 7 to 8 earthquakes about every 500 years during the past 1,200 years.

Photograph of sand blow along Obion River near Dyersburg, Tennessee, composed of three fining upward sedimentary layers. Each layer probably formed as result of individual large shock in earthquake sequence. Radiocarbon dating indicates that sand blow formed in 1811-1812. For scale, hoe is 1 m in length. Photograph by Martitia Tuttle.

(A) Time line of New Madrid events during past 2,000 years. Another event has been identified in 2350 B.C. + 200 yr but earthquake chronology is incomplete for period between 2350 B.C. and 800 A.D.; (B) Uncertainties in age estimates of New Madrid events lead to variability in recurrence times. Average recurrence time for past two earthquake cycles is 500 years.

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