Abstract

Earthquake catalogs for the Iberian Peninsula report three strong- magnitude events in the eighteenth century: 27 December 1722, 1 November 1755, and 31 March 1761. These events have magnitudes greater than 7 and generated tsunamis that damaged the Portuguese coasts. However, their source areas are controversial because of the lack of detailed and coherent historical descriptions.

The 31 March 1761 earthquake was felt in Lisbon at noon, alarming the inhabitants and throwing down ruins of the past 1 November 1755 earthquake. According to several sources the earthquake was followed by a tsunami that was observed as far as Cornwall (United Kingdom), Cork (Ireland), and Barbados (Caribbean). The Portuguese catalogs locate this event on the Horseshoe Abyssal Plain, south of Gorringe Bank, and attribute a magnitude of 7.5. The Caribbean tsunami catalog (Lander et al., 2002) locates the event further north 37° N 10° W and estimates of its epicenter intensity as IX.

In this study we present a reappraisal of the available historical reports concerning the 1761 event, a revision of the macroseismic intensities along Iberia, and the tsunami observations along the western Portuguese and Galicia coasts, England, Ireland, and the West Indies. With this dataset we use backward raytracing techniques to discuss the location of the event and its integration with one of the major tsunami generation areas in the western Portuguese margin. We conclude that the 31 March 1761 earthquake took place at 12:01 a.m. (Lisbon time). Its epicenter was located about 34.5° N 13° W and had a tsunami magnitude close to 8.5.

Online material: Felt reports from the 31 March 1761 earthquake.

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