In the early morning of 13 February 1986, an earthquake with a duration magnitude (MD) of 3.2 rumbled through northwestern South Carolina. The event was centered near Lake Keowee in Oconee County in a region of prior low level seismicity. Approximately eighty aftershocks with magnitudes ranging from −1.0 to 2.0 were recorded during the next six days. The locations of five aftershocks were accurately determined, utilizing data from portable seismographs deployed in the epicentral area. Depths of the two earthquakes with a location quality of B or better were between 3 and 4 km. First motion focal mechanism solutions for the mainshock suggest oblique slip along a plane striking northeast or northwest. The P axis was oriented northeast-southwest in support of the directions obtained from mechanisms of other local earthquakes and from direct measurements of the maximum horizontal stress in the regions.
A second mainshock (MD = 2.8) occurred in the vicinity of Lake Keowee on 11 June 1986 and was followed by over sixty earthquakes during the next five weeks. Focal mechanism solutions from first motion data obtained for the mainshock resemble those of the 13 February event and suggest oblique slip along a northeast or northwest striking plane. Depths of the best located aftershocks were approximately 1 km.
Two tests were applied to the data to assess the reliability of the depth estimates. These involve the determination that the plot of RMS travel time residual versus fixed solution depth exhibits a single, sharp RMS minimum at the depth obtained from a free solution (depth uniqueness) and that the final free solution depth is not dependent upon the choice of starting depth (depth stability). Free solution depths obtained for the majority of the better located aftershocks were found to be unique and stable at depths between 1 and 4 km.
A northeast trending anomaly is prominent in the geophysical data for this area. This anomaly is interpreted to result from an abrupt, lateral change in lithology along a shallow, northeast striking plane. The earthquakes do not appear to be associated with this feature. Instead, these earthquakes appear to be associated with a shallow body and may represent slip along northeast or northwest striking joints. The proximity of these earthquakes to Lake Keowee suggests the possibility of reservoir triggering. No correlation between seismicity and reservoir level is evident prior to the February events. Rapid fluctuations in water level did precede the events in June and July, providing possible triggering mechanisms.