This study reports on the results of geological and seismological field studies conducted following the rare occurrence of a moderate-sized West African earthquake (mb = 6.4) with associated ground breakage. The epicentral area of the northwestern Guinea earthquake of 22 December 1983 is a coastal margin, intraplate locale with a very low level of historical seismicity. The principal results include the observation that seismic faulting occurred on a preexisting fault system and that there is good agreement among the surface faulting, the spatial distribution of the aftershock hypocenters, and the composite focal mechanism solutions. We are not able, however, to shed any light on the reason(s) for the unexpected occurrence of this intraplate earthquake. Thus, the significance of this study is its contribution to the observational datum for such earthquakes and for the seismicity of West Africa.

The main shock was associated with at least 9 km of surface fault-rupture. Trending east-southeast to east-west, measured fault displacements up to ∼13 cm were predominantly right-lateral strike slip and were accompanied by an additional component (5 to 7 cm) of vertical movement, southwest side down. The surface faulting occurred on a preexisting fault whose field characteristics suggest a low slip rate with very infrequent earthquakes. There were extensive rockfalls and minor liquefaction effects at distances less than 10 km from the surface faulting and main shock epicenter. Main shock focal mechanism solutions derived from teleseismic data by other workers show a strong component of normal faulting motion that was not observed in the ground ruptures.

A 15-day period of aftershock monitoring, commencing 22 days after the main shock, was conducted. Eleven portable, analog short-period vertical seismographs were deployed in a network with an aperture of 25 km and an average station spacing of 7 km. Ninety-five aftershocks were located from the more than 200 recorded events with duration magnitudes of about 1.5 or greater. Analysis of a selected subset (91) of those events define a tabular aftershock volume (26 km long by 14 km wide by 4 km thick) trending east-southeast and dipping steeply (∼60°) to the south-southwest. Composite focal mechanisms for groups of events, distributed throughout the aftershock volume, exhibit right-lateral, strike-slip motion on subvertical planes that strike almost due east. Although the general agreement between the field geologic and seismologic results is good, our preferred interpretation is for three en-echelon faults striking almost due east-west.

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