Although the upper Mississippi embayment is an area of low relief, the region has been subjected to tectonic influence throughout its history and continues to be so today. Tectonic activity can be recognized through seismicity patterns and geological indicators of activity, either those as a direct result of earthquakes, or longer term geomorphic, structural, and sedimentological signatures. The rate of seismic activity in the upper Mississippi embayment is generally lower than at the margins of tectonic plates; the embayment, however, is the most seismically active region east of the Rocky Mountains, with activity concentrated in the New Madrid seismic zone. This zone produced the very large New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. Geological and geophysical evidence of neotectonic activity in the upper Mississippi embayment includes faulting in the Benton Hills and Thebes Gap in Missouri, paleoliquefaction in the Western Lowlands of Missouri, subsurface faulting beneath and tilting of Crowley's Ridge in northeastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri, subsurface faulting along the Crittenden County fault zone near Memphis, Tennessee, faulting along the east flank of the Tiptonville dome, and numerous indicators of historic and prehistoric large earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone. Paleoearthquake studies in the New Madrid seismic zone have used trenching, seismic reflection, shallow coring, pedology, geomorphology, archaeology, and dendrochronology to identify and date faulting, deposits of liquefied sand, and areas of uplift and subsidence. The cause of today's relatively high rate of tectonic activity in the Mississippi embayment remains elusive. It is also not clear whether this activity rate is a short term phenomenon or has been constant over millions of years. Ongoing geodetic and geological studies should provide more insight as to the precise manner in which crustal strain is accumulating, and perhaps allow improved regional neotectonic models.
Engineering Geology – Elsevier
Published: Dec 30, 1996
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