Abstract

The three principal New Madrid mainshocks of 1811-1812 were followed by extensive aftershock sequences that included numerous felt events. Although no instrumental data are available for either the mainshocks or the aftershocks, available historical accounts do provide information that can be used to estimate magnitudes and locations for the large events. In this article we investigate two of the largest aftershocks: one near dawn following the first mainshock on 16 December 1811, and one near midday on 17 December 1811. We reinterpret original felt reports to obtain a set of 48 and 20 modified Mercalli intensity values of the two aftershocks, respectively. For the dawn aftershock, we infer a MW of approximately 7.0 based on a comparison of its intensities with those of the smallest New Madrid mainshock. Based on a detailed account that appears to describe near-field ground motions, we further propose a new fault rupture scenario for the dawn aftershock. We suggest that the aftershock had a thrust mechanism and occurred on a southeastern limb of the Reelfoot fault. For the 17 December 1811 aftershock, we infer a MW of approximately 6.1 ± 0.2. This value is determined using the method of Bakun et al. (2002), which is based on a new calibration of intensity versus distance for earthquakes in central and eastern North America. The location of this event is not well constrained, but the available accounts suggest an epicenter beyond the southern end of the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

You do not currently have access to this article.