Abstract

The recently recognized Saline River fault zone in the southwestern Mississippi embayment (strike = 135°) is characterized by moderate historic seismicity. We document paleoseismicity (possibly strong) on the Saline River fault zone that is outside the known region of neotectonism in the northern embayment. Six surface faults were excavated within the Saline River fault zone, and all faults displace marine Eocene units and fluvial Pliocene–Pleistocene units; five show post-Wisconsin loess movement (thermoluminescence [TL] age = 23.6 ± 3 ka), and three deform middle to late Holocene eolian silt (TL age = 5.1 ± 0.6 ka and 3.6 ± 0.5 ka) as fault-tip flexures. Along the principal excavated fault, fault-plane braiding and plunging drag folding suggest a strong component of left slip, and subsidiary faults show both normal and reverse displacement (<1m) of Pliocene−Pleistocene, Wisconsin, and Holocene units. We interpret these faults as components of a left-slip flower structure. A shallow seismic reflection profile acquired across the principal fault and a subsidiary fault shows Eocene stratigraphy separated in a reverse sense below 120 m depth and separated in a normal sense above 120 m, supporting a strike-slip interpretation. In addition, the only focal plane mechanism available in the area indicates left slip with a small reverse component.

We conclude that the Saline River fault zone is a Paleozoic–Mesozoic basement fault zone reactivated as a left-slip system in a Quaternary east-west compressive stress field. Field evidence suggests that earthquakes with several meters of strike slip may be characteristic, and the width of a liquefaction field on the Saline River fault zone suggests an event of magnitude 5.5–6. Considering a similarity of strike and sense of Holocene movements of the Meers fault of southern Oklahoma and of the Saline River fault zone, there may be additional active fault zones that pose seismic hazards concealed by sediments in southern North America.

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