The Cottonwood Grove fault is located within a portion of the New Madrid seismic zone in northwestern Tennessee. Focal mechanism studies indicate that this area is a seismic transition zone. To the southwest is a southwest-northeast seismic trend in which movements along deeper seated faults is predominantly right-lateral strike-slip. To the north is a southeast-northwest seismic trend in which reverse and normal faulting predominate.

The Cottonwood Grove fault is buried beneath the poorly consolidated sediments of the Mississippi embayment. The fault, as identified by an earlier Vibroseis ®* survey is a northeast-southwest trending, eastward-dipping reverse fault with approximately 75 m (245 ft) of displacement on the Paleozoc-Cretaceous boundary.

A Mini-Sosie™† high-resolution seismic reflection survey was conducted through the village of Cottonwood Grove along the previously surveyed Vibroseis line to improve estimates of the age, geometry, and displacements of the Cottonwood Grove fault. Results of the Mini-Sosie survey reveal that displacements across the major fault are relatively consistent within Cretaceous, Paleocene, and middle Eocene sedimentary rocks. In upper Eocene and younger rocks, however, there is no evidence for faulting. Our interpretation includes a previously undetected secondary fault at the boundary between upper Cretaceous and Paleocene rocks. Also included in our interpretation of the subsurface profile through Cottonwood Grove is an Eocene age channel feature located 2 km east of the Cottonwood Grove fault. In addition, the Paleozoic-Cretaceous boundary is interpreted to be an erosional surface with no intrusives included in the Paleozoic rocks. Synthetic seismogram modeling, detailed gravity survey data, and theoretical gravity calculations support this interpretation, and indicate that shallow intrusive bodies within Paleozoic rocks are not needed to explain the observed data. Seismic reflections which would be expected if the intrusives were present are not observed, and the observed Bouguer gravity anomaly can be explained by use of irregularities on the erosional Paleozoic bedrock surface along with sedimentary features within the post-Paleozoic sediments.

These data suggest that Cottonwood Grove fault formed during middle Eocene time and that since that time, any major movement on deeper faults has been predominantly strike-slip with little or no vertical reactivation. This interpretation is consistent with the prevailing hypotheses relating current seismicity of the New Madrid seismic zone to the contemporary regional compressive stress field acting on zones of weakness associated with the Precambrian Reelfoot Rift Complex.


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