Abstract

The continental part of west‐central Mexico is characterized by the active extensional tectonic regimes of the Trans‐Mexican volcanic belt and the adjacent southern Basin and Range Province. The deformation of the latter is distributed over several topographically very pronounced grabens and half‐grabens (width 10–20 km, length 200  km; throw 1–2 km), including the Aguascalientes, Juchipila, Tlaltenango, and Bolaños grabens. Here, an A.D. 1774–1775 earthquake series in that area is documented based on numerous contemporary sources. The 6 November 1774 mainshock caused moderate‐to‐severe damage in several communities of the Bolaños graben, including the silver mining town of Bolaños, and moderate damage to communities in the Tlaltenango graben, such as the administrative center of Colotlán. Based on the macroseismic intensity distribution, the epicenter was in the Bolaños graben. The preferred magnitude of the mainshock is 6.0±0.5. No major historical earthquake had been reported previously from this region. Existing ground‐shaking hazard models may, therefore, give a false sense of security.

In the Bolaños graben, motion along the graben‐bounding faults and the observed tilting of the graben shoulders has to be mostly younger than the 19.9 Ma age of the youngest basalt of the graben‐shoulder stratigraphy. Its correlation across the western master fault indicates a 1300 m throw and a vertical long‐term slip rate of 0.07  mm/yr. The observations of alluvial fan deposits juxtaposed against the footwall ignimbrites along the western master fault of the Bolaños graben, the displacement of alluvial fan deposits along secondary faults within the graben, and the existence of hot springs along the western boundary fault all are indicative of active deformation, and so is evidently the A.D. 1774 earthquake.

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