Recent Fault Activity in the 1886 Charleston, South Carolina Earthquake Epicentral Area and its Relation to Buried Structures
Monday, 15 December 2014: 11:50 AM
The 1886 Charleston, SC earthquake (M6.8-7.3) is the largest recorded earthquake to strike the U.S. east of the Appalachian Mountains. It occurred along the U.S. passive margin within an area of extensive Mesozoic rifting and beneath the ~800-m thick, subhorizontal Atlantic Coastal Plain (ACP) strata. The fault(s) that caused the 1886 earthquake remain the subject of debate. We examine reprocessed seismic reflection data in the epicentral area to discern faults cutting the Cretaceous and Cenozoic ACP strata, and relate them to deeper structures revealed by the seismic profiles and filtered aeromagnetic data. Faults are identified on the seismic profiles by sharp vertical displacements of strata, abrupt but small changes in dip, and folding of the ACP strata. Some of these faults dip steeply and locally displace deeper reflectors within the underlying South Georgia rift basin with minor displacement; in places they bound uplifted blocks of ACP strata. These observations and the lack of surface scarps during the 1886 earthquake suggest a component of strike-slip for the Cretaceous and Cenozoic displacements, whereas some modern focal mechanisms show thrust motion. A prominent magnetic anomaly high shows a NE-trending west edge in the epicentral area, and short-wavelength magnetic anomalies show disruptions aligned along NE trends. These latter disruptions appear to be related to the seismically imaged faults that offset ACP strata. One of the faults, previously interpreted by Chapman and Beale (2010), shows folding and perhaps faulting of ACP strata with ~50 m vertical displacement and is aligned along the NW edge of the magnetic high. The vertical uplift is nearly equal through the ACP section with little or no upward decrease across the fault, indicating the motion is primarily Cenozoic. The fault lies near Summerville about 35 km NW of Charleston, where 1886 ground deformation was focused. Another NE-trending fault, crossing beneath the Ashley River ~15 km NW of Charleston, is interpreted based on disruptions of magnetic anomalies to align with the greatest earthquake deformation observed along 3 railroad lines, including lateral offsets of the tracks and NE-trending surface fissures. These observations are consistent with two NE-trending faults rupturing during the 1886 earthquake.