Estimating Earthquake Magnitude from the Kentucky Bend Scarp in the New Madrid Seismic Zone Using Field Geomorphic Mapping and High-Resolution LiDAR Topography

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Keith I Kelson and Whitney G Kirkendall, URS Corporation, Oakland, CA, United States
Recent suggestions that the 1811-1812 earthquakes in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) ranged from M6.8-7.0 versus M8.0 have implications for seismic hazard estimation in the central US. We more accurately identify the location of the NW-striking, NE-facing Kentucky Bend scarp along the northern Reelfoot fault, which is spatially associated with the Lake County uplift, contemporary seismicity, and changes in the Mississippi River from the February 1812 earthquake. We use 1m-resolution LiDAR hillshades and slope surfaces, aerial photography, soil surveys, and field geomorphic mapping to estimate the location, pattern, and amount of late Holocene coseismic surface deformation. We define eight late Holocene to historic fluvial deposits, and delineate younger alluvia that are progressively inset into older deposits on the upthrown, western side of the fault. Some younger, clayey deposits indicate past ponding against the scarp, perhaps following surface deformational events. The Reelfoot fault is represented by sinuous breaks-in-slope cutting across these fluvial deposits, locally coinciding with shallow faults identified via seismic reflection data (Woolery et al., 1999). The deformation pattern is consistent with NE-directed reverse faulting along single or multiple SW-dipping fault planes, and the complex pattern of fluvial deposition appears partially controlled by intermittent uplift. Six localities contain scarps across correlative deposits and allow evaluation of cumulative surface deformation from LiDAR-derived topographic profiles. Displacements range from 3.4±0.2 m, to 2.2±0.2 m, 1.4±0.3 m, and 0.6±0.1 m across four progressively younger surfaces. The spatial distribution of the profiles argues against the differences being a result of along-strike uplift variability. We attribute the lesser displacements of progressively younger deposits to recurrent surface deformation, but do not yet interpret these initial data with respect to possible earthquake magnitudes. Additional efforts hopefully will address shallow subsurface evidence of single- or multiple-deformational events at selected localities.