Abstract

In 4 August 1885, 06:30 local time, a strong earthquake (reported intensities up to VI–VII modified Mercalli intensity [MMI]) was felt in the French Guiana, causing slight damage. Recently discovered newspaper records show that this event was also felt as far as Georgetown (British Guyana), Belém, and several other localities along the Amazon River toward Manaus (Brazil). The distribution of intensities and the radius of the felt area indicate a magnitude around Mw 6.9, which makes it the largest known earthquake in the stable continental region of South America, since the nineteenth century. The epicenter, determined with four different attenuation relations, lies onshore near the border between the French Guiana and Brazil, although an epicenter offshore in the continental slope cannot be ruled out with 95% confidence. The epicenter (03.4° N, 52.9°W±100  km) likely lies in the Transamazonian (2.2–2.0 Ga) geochronological province in the Guyana shield of the Amazon craton. No nearby failed rift is known onshore near the epicenter, which would place this event in the 30% class of nonextended stable continental crust. Other nearby smaller earthquakes (both historical and instrumental) with magnitudes up to mb 5.2, indicate a cluster of seismicity in the region of the 1885 earthquake, possibly delineating an onshore seismic zone separate from the sparse seismicity along the continental shelf. This large midplate earthquake will likely affect future reevaluations of seismic hazard in midplate South America.

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