Where was the 31 October 1895, Charleston, Missouri Earthquake?

Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
By:  and 



We revisit the magnitude and location of the 31 October 1895 Charleston, Missouri earthquake, which is widely regarded to be the last MW6 or greater earthquake in the central United States. Although a recent study (Bakun et al., 2003) concluded that this earthquake was located in southern Illinois, over 100 km north of the traditionally inferred location near Charleston, Missouri, our analysis of exhaustively compiled macroseismic data supports the traditionally inferred location, with a preferred magnitude of MW ≈ 5.8, and preferred range of 5.4 to 6.1. Our preferred magnitude is derived from comparisons with intensity distributions from the 1925 MW = 6.2 Charlevoix, the 1944 MW = 5.8 Massena, and the 1968 MW = 5.3 southern Illinois earthquakes, which we also revisited in this study. Based on the distribution of liquefaction, reports of damage, and early aftershocks, we also explore possible rupture scenarios for the 1895 earthquake. Our preferred scenario involves unilateral rupture to the northeast on a (reactivated) northeast-striking fault (or faults) coinciding with structures associated with the western limb of the Reelfoot Rift, with an epicenter south-southeast of Charleston, Missouri. Our results support the conclusion that, within the Reelfoot Rift, elevated seismic hazard is not restricted to the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) as conventionally defined but continues into the Charleston region in southeastern Missouri where faults associated with the western edge of the Reelfoot Rift appear favorably oriented for failure in the current stress regime.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Where was the 31 October 1895, Charleston, Missouri Earthquake?
Series title Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
DOI 10.1785/0120180328
Volume 109
Issue 4
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Seismological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 19 p.
First page 1479
Last page 1497
Country United States
State Missouri
Other Geospatial Charleston
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