Estimating Strain Accumulation in the New Madrid and Wabash Valley Seismic Zones
Monday, 15 December 2014
The mechanical behaviour -- and hence earthquake potential -- of faults in continental interiors is a question of critical importance for the resultant seismic hazard, but no consensus has yet been reached on this controversial topic. The debate has focused on the central and eastern United States, in particular the New Madrid Seismic Zone, struck by three magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes in 1811--1812, and to a lesser extent the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone just to the north. A key aspect of this issue is the rate at which strain is currently accruing on those faults in the plate interior, a quantity that remains debated. Understanding if the present-day strain rates indicate sufficient motion to account for the historical and paleoseismological earthquakes by steady-state fault behaviour, or if strain accumulation is time-dependent in this area, is critical for investigating the causative process driving this seismicity in the plate interior, and how regional strain reflects the interplay between stresses arising from different geological processes. Here we address this issue with an analysis of up to 14 years of continuous GPS data from a network of 200 sites in the central United States centred on the New Madrid and Wabash Valley seismic zones. We find that high-quality sites in these regions show motions that are consistently within the 95% confidence limit of zero deformation relative to a rigid background. These results place an upper bound on regional strain accrual of 0.2 mm/yr and 0.5 mm/yr in the New Madrid and Wabash Valley Seismic Zones, respectively. These results, together with increasing evidence for temporal clustering and spatial migration of earthquake sequences in continental interiors, indicate that either tectonic loading rates or fault properties vary with time in the NMSZ and possibly plate-wide.