Abstract

The countries of Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic all straddle the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault zone (EPGFZ), a major left‐lateral, strike‐slip fault system bounding the Caribbean and North American plates. Past large earthquakes that destroyed the capital cities of Kingston, Jamaica (1692, 1907), and Port‐au‐Prince, Haiti (1751, 1770), as well as the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people, have heightened awareness of seismic hazards in the northern Caribbean. We present here new geomorphic and paleoseismic information bearing on the location and relative activity of the EPGFZ, which marks the plate boundary in Jamaica. Documentation of a river bank exposure and several trenches indicate that this fault is active and has the potential to cause major destructive earthquakes in Jamaica. The results suggest that the fault has not ruptured the surface in at least 500 yr and possibly as long as 28 ka. The long period of quiescence and subdued geomorphic expression of the EPGFZ indicates that it may only accommodate part of the ∼7–9  mm/yr plate deformation rate measured geodetically and that slip may be partitioned on other undocumented faults. Large uncertainties related to the neotectonic framework of Jamaica remain and more detailed fault characterization studies are necessary to accurately assess seismic hazards.

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