Studies related to the Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake of 1886 — Tectonics and seismicity

Professional Paper 1313
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
By: , and 
Edited by: Gregory S. Gohn



Since 1973, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), with support from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has conducted extensive investigations of the tectonic and seismic history of the Charleston, S.C., earthquake zone and surrounding areas. The goal of these investigations has been to discover the cause of the large intraplate Charleston earthquake of 1886, which dominates the record of seismicity in the Southeastern United States, through an understanding of the historic and modern seismicity at Charleston and of the tectonic setting of the seismicity. This goal is being pursued to evaluate the potential for additional large earthquakes in the Charleston area and surrounding regions and to determine whether the Charleston area differs tectonically in any significant fashion from other parts of the Southeastern United States. An understanding of the specific cause for the 1886 event and of the regional distribution of any structures that are generically related to or geometrically and mechanically similar to the source structure is essential for evaluation of seismic hazards throughout the Southeast.

The results given herein represent significant progress toward understanding the tectonic setting of the Charleston-area seismicity. Several chapters in the volume address the distribution and origin of pre-Cretaceous rocks and structures beneath Coastal Plain sediments in the Charleston area and regionally beneath the southern Atlantic Coastal Plain and adjacent Continental Shelf. The modern seismicity at Charleston is occurring at depths equal to or greater than the known extent of these older structures, and rejuvenation of an older fault in the modern stress field is a possible cause of the seismicity. Accordingly, several chapters discuss the possible relationships of the various pre-Cretaceous structures to faults identified near Charleston that have a known Cretaceous and Cenozoic movement history and to the historic and instrumentally recorded seismicity. However, at the present time, none of the young structures can be related unequivocally to the seismicity because earthquake fault-plane solutions and hypocenter distributions do not agree with the locations and orientations of these structures. Therefore, a major emphasis of continuing USGS investigations near Charleston will be to identify additional faults, if any exist, to delineate fault movement histories, and to further refine earthquake locations, focal mechanisms, and related seismological interpretations.

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Part A: Geochemistry and tectonic significance of subsurface basalts near Charleston, South Carolina: Clubhouse crossroads test holes #2 and #3
  • Part B: 40Ar/39Ar ages of basalt from clubhouse crossroads test hole #2, near Charleston, South Carolina
  • Part C: Paleomagnetic investigations of the clubhouse crossroads basalt
  • Part D: Geology of the Lower Mesozoic(?) sedimentary rocks in clubhouse crossroads test hole #3, near Charleston, South Carolina
  • Part E: Geology of the basement rocks aear Charleston, South Carolina - Data from detrital rock fragments in Lower Mesozoic(?) rocks in clubhouse crossroads test hole #3
  • Part F: Seismic-refraction study in the area of the Charleston, South Carolina, 1886 earthquake
  • Part G: A reflection seismic study near Charleston, South Carolina
  • Part H: Subsurface structure near Charleston, South Carolina - Results of COCORP reflection profiling in the Atlantic Coastal Plain
  • Part I: Land multichannel seismic-reflection evidence for tectonic features near Charleston, South Carolina
  • Part J: Marine multichannel seismic-reflection evidence for cenozoic faulting and deep crustal structure near Charleston, South Carolina
  • Part K: Distribution of subsurface lower Mesozoic rocks in the southeastern United States, as interpreted from regional aeromagnetic and gravity maps
  • Part L: Pre-Cretaceous rocks beneath the Georgia coastal plain - Regional implications
  • Part M: Potassium-Argon relations in diabase dikes of Georgia - The influence of excess 40Ar on the geochronology of early Mesozoic igneous and tectonic events
  • Part N: Mesozoic development and structure of the continental margin off South Carolina
  • Part O: Basement structure indicated by seismic-refraction measurements offshore from South Carolina and adjacent areas
  • Part P: Mesozoic tectonics of the southeastern United States coastal plain and continental margin
  • Part Q: Relocation of instrumentally recorded pre-1974 earthquakes in the South Carolina region
  • Part R: Seismicity near Charleston, South Carolina, March 1973 to December 1979
  • Part S: Regenerate faults of small Cenozoic offset - Probable earthquake sources in the southeastern United States
  • Part T: Speculations on the nature of seismicity at Charleston, South Carolina


Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Studies related to the Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake of 1886 — Tectonics and seismicity
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1313
DOI 10.3133/pp1313
Year Published 1983
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description Report: 467 p.; 8 Plates: 47.36 x 40.73 inches or smaller
Country United States
State Florida, Georgia, South Carolina
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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