Why the New Madrid earthquakes are M 7–8 and the Charleston earthquake is ∼M 7

Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis
By:  and 



Estimates of magnitudes of large historical earthquakes are an essential input to and can seriously affect seismic‐hazard estimates. The earthquake‐intensity observations, modified Mercalli intensities (MMI), and assigned magnitudes Mof the 1811–1812 New Madrid events have been reinterpreted several times in the last decade and have been a source of controversy in making seismic‐hazard estimates in the central United States. Observations support the concept that the larger the earthquake, the greater the maximum‐felt distance. For the same crustal attenuation and local soil conditions, magnitude should be the main influence on intensity values at large distances. We apply this concept by comparing the mean MMI at distances of 600–1200 km for each of the four largest New Madrid 1811–1812 earthquakes, the 1886 Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake, the 1929 M 7.2 Grand Banks earthquake, and the 2001M 7.6 Bhuj, India, earthquake. We fit the intensity observations using the form MMI=A+C×dist−0.8×log(dist) to better define intensity attenuation in eastern North America (ENA). The intensity attenuation in cratonic India differs from ENA and is corrected to ENA using both the above estimate and published intensity relations. We evaluate source, marine geophysical, Q, and stress‐drop information, as well as a 1929 Milne–Shaw record at Chicago to confirm that the 1929 Grand Banks earthquake occurred in ENA crust. Our direct comparison of mean intensities beyond 600 km suggests M 7.5, 7.3, 7.7, and 6.9 for the three New Madrid 1811–1812 mainshocks and the largest aftershock and M 7.0 for the 1886 Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake, with an estimated uncertainty of 0.3 units at the 95% confidence level (based on a Monte Carlo analysis). Our mean New Madrid and Charleston mainshock magnitudes are similar to those of Bakun and Hopper (2004) and are much higher than those of Hough and Page (2011) for New Madrid.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Why the New Madrid earthquakes are M 7–8 and the Charleston earthquake is ∼M 7
Series title Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
DOI 10.1785/0120120257
Volume 104
Issue 6
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Seismological Society of America
Publisher location Stanford, CA
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 20 p.
First page 2884
Last page 2903
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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