Abstract

We surveyed the area north of New Madrid, Missouri, for prehistoric liquefaction deposits and uncovered two new sites with evidence of pre-1811 earthquakes. At one site, located about 20 km northeast of New Madrid, Missouri, radiocarbon dating indicates that an upper sand blow was probably deposited after A.D. 1510 and a lower sand blow was deposited prior to A.D. 1040. A sand blow at another site about 45 km northeast of New Madrid, Missouri, is dated as likely being deposited between A.D. 55 and A.D. 1620 and represents the northernmost recognized expression of prehistoric liquefaction likely related to the New Madrid seismic zone. This study, taken together with other data, supports the occurrence of at least two earthquakes strong enough to induce liquefaction or faulting before A.D. 1811 and after A.D. 400. One earthquake probably occurred around A.D. 900 and a second earthquake occurred around A.D. 1350. The data are not yet sufficient to estimate the magnitudes of the causative earthquakes for these liquefaction deposits although we conclude that all of the earthquakes are at least moment magnitude M ∼ 6.8, the size of the 1895 Charleston, Missouri, earthquake. A more rigorous estimate of the number and sizes of prehistoric earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone awaits evaluation of additional sites.

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