There were two other large earthquakes- one on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. And far beyond, too: at magnitude 8.2 on the Richter scale, that earthquake reverberated over an area of more than 50,000 square miles, rattling windows as far away as Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). The strongest aftershock, a magnitude-7.0 tremor that became known as the “dawn aftershock,” occurred later that day at 7:15 am. January 23, 1812, a magnitude 7.3 to 7.6 quake with an epicenter in the Missouri Bootheel struck at around 9:00 a.m. See Magnitude - replaces Richter scale. Three of the earthquakes are on the list of America’s top earthquakes: the first one on December 16, 1811, a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale; the second on January 23, 1812, at 7.8; and the third on February 7, 1812, at as much as 8.8 magnitude. In the known history of the world, no other earthquakes have lasted so long or produced so much evidence of damage as the New Madrid earthquakes. https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. They remain the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history. of the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes Susan E. Hough U.S. Geological Survey, Pasadena, California John G. Armbruster and Leonardo Seeber Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York Jerry F. Hough Department of Political Science, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina Abstract. Some pursued the combative intertribal militancy favored by Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa, while others opted for more accommodationist strategies true to their own unique cultural frames of reference. The earthquakes and their aftershocks took place within a large region called the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ)—an area of high earthquake risk running from northeastern Arkansas and northwestern Tennessee to southeastern Missouri and southwestern Kentucky. Reports indicate that between December 1811 and March 1812, there were over 2000 earthquakes and aftershocks along the New Madrid fault. The fault line runs some 150 miles from Marked Tree, Arkansas, to Cairo, Illinois, passing through southeast Missouri. This would make a total of seven earthquakes of magnitude M6.0-7.5 occurring in the period December 16, 1811 through February 7, 1812. John P. Rafferty writes about Earth processes and the environment. Valencius, Conevery Bolton. The geologic record of pre-1811 earthquakes reveals that the New Madrid seismic zone has repeatedly produced sequences of major earthquakes, including several of magnitude 7 to 8, over the past 4,500 years. More-precise figures have been presented by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Earthquake Hazards Program: magnitude 7.7 for the December earthquake and magnitudes 7.5 and 7.7 for the January and February earthquakes, respectively. Huge cracks split the ground. Ground motions from the three principal events were felt in places as far away as Canada, New England, and the coast of South Carolina. The magnitude of the December 16, 1811, event ranged from 6.7 to 8.1, whereas the ranges for the earthquakes of January 23 and February 7, 1812, were 6.8–7.8 and 7.0–8.8, respectively. When John Bradbury entered a house near the Chickasaw Bluffs in which there was an open Bible on the table, one of the occupants attributed the cause of the recurring shocks to the Great Comet of 1811 that had appeared a few months earlier. Shortly after the earthquake began, ground shaking was felt as far away as Canada in the north and the Gulf Coast in the south. By late spring the aftershocks had gradually diminished, but in the forlorn New Madrid district, only the hardiest souls remained. St. Louis, farther removed from the epicenter, escaped with only toppled chimneys and a few cracked stone and brick walls. American evangelicals employed earthquakes as signs of God’s wrath for sinful behavior and a catalyst for Christian conversion and repentance. US Geological Survey. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1981. The 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes were an intense intraplate earthquake series beginning with an initial earthquake of moment magnitude (7.5 -7.9) on December 16, 1811 followed by a moment magnitude 7.4 aftershock on the same day. Corrections? Joseph Charless, the editor of the Missouri Gazette, momentarily thought that a volcanic eruption farther west might have been responsible for the clamor of windows, doors, and furniture in motion that interrupted his sleep. Boatman on the river reported the riverbed rose up to 15 feet causing the Mississippi to flow backwards and create two temporary waterfalls. In 2011 the results of a report prepared by the USGS noted that residents within an area of approximately 232,000 square miles (about 600,000 square km) experienced very strong ground shaking, and people living in an area of roughly 965,000 square miles (about 2,500,000 square km) experienced shaking that was intense enough to frighten them. In addition, Lake St. Francis in Arkansas, a water body formed by subsidence that followed earlier earthquakes associated with the NMSZ, expanded. It appears here by permission of the author and the original publisher. Hancock, Jonathan Todd. There were thousands of aftershocks, of which 1,874 were large enough to be felt in Louisville, Kentucky, about 190 miles (300 km) away. A second earthquake of the same size hit six hours later, again shaking the ground more than 1,000 miles away. The Mississippi Valley Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812: Intensities, Ground Motion, and Magnitudes. Possible causes of the New Madrid earthquakes, https://www.britannica.com/event/New-Madrid-earthquakes-of-1811-1812, USGS Earthquake Hazards - The New Madrid Seismic Zone. Initially, they suspected that hostile Indians had caused the mischief by unleashing their tethered vessel from its moorings, but a succession of shocks soon alerted them to the true source of the mayhem. The US government did not provide victims of the destructive earthquakes with relief until the War of 1812 had ended. The 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes were an intense intraplate earthquake series beginning with an initial earthquake of moment magnitude 7.5‑7.9 on December 16, 1811 … On land the impact of the earthquakes was no less horrific. The third principal earthquake, on February 7, however, matched or exceeded the strength and severity of the December 16 event. The earthquake sequence that struck the New Madrid region of the Mississippi Valley in 1811-1812 had remarkably far-reaching effects. The shock, whose epicentre was also located near New Madrid, Missouri, shook the region at 3:45 am and resulted in the destruction of New Madrid. Image credit: USGS. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Since the rocks in the eastern United States have few active faults to interrupt the propagation of seismic waves, ground vibrations from earthquakes generated in the region may travel thousands of miles. Rev. The temblors were felt far beyond New Madrid and its environs. The epicentre of the aftershock is a matter of some debate; some Earth scientists noted that it was located in northeastern Arkansas, whereas others maintained that it was located in northwestern Tennessee near the southern end of the Reelfoot Fault, a large fault running northwest-southeast within the Reelfoot Rift. It probably had a magnitude of 7.5-7.9 on the Richter scale. Reelfoot Lake, near Tiptonville, Tennessee. Scholars do agree, however, that the New Madrid earthquakes were the strongest such events recorded in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Penick, James Lal, Jr. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The New Madrid Earthquakes. These are estimated at between 7 and 8 on the richter scale. Magnitude: December 16, 1811: 2 A.M. 8.2: January 23, 1812: 8.1: February 7, 1812: 3:15 A.M. 8.3: The estimated locations of the epicenters of these earthquakes are shown below: Several towns, including New Madrid, shown on the above map were destroyed by the quakes. Large waves formed on the water that capsized numerous boats and thrust others onto the land. The January 23 event was the smallest of the three principal earthquakes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. The New Madrid region continues to have the highest level of seismicity activity in the United States east of the Rockies. A series of minor earth tremors (maximum magnitude of just 2.6) have not so much shaken as shivered the Mississippi valley between Paducah and Memphis over the past 30 days. He rushed on deck, where he and his anxious fellow passengers sought to determine the source of their peril. Abstract Continental North America's greatest earthquake sequence struck on the western frontier of the United States. They argue that the three, possibly four, M7–8 New Madrid earthquake sequences prior to 1811–1812 that occurred in about A.D. 1450, A.D. 900, and A.D. 300 (Tuttle et al., 2002) were transient in nature, andthusconflictwiththemodelusedinstandardhazardcal- culations. Three of the earthquakes are on the list of America's top earthquakes: the first one on December 16, 1811, a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale; the second on January 23, 1812, at 7.8; and the third on February 7, 1812, at as much as 8.8 magnitude. In Louisville, Kentucky, a man who had homemade recording instruments reported a total of 1,874 shocks between December 11, 1811, and March 16, 1812. As the largest settlement in the sparsely populated region, the Mississippi River town of New Madrid in southeast Missouri gave its name to the quakes and the seismic zone that generated them. The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes. The number of lives lost from the earthquakes remains unknown; however, scholars note that the number was probably not great, because the region had only a sparse rural population. NEW MADRID EARTHQUAKE 1811-1812. Map of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12. Lorenzo Dow in 1816, describing the earthquake as eye-witness. When the nearly one hundred refugees reached New Madrid on Christmas Eve, they were dismayed to find its inhabitants camping in tents in open fields. The maximum documented intensity for both earthquakes on December 16, 1811, is MM intensity VIII at Richmond, Kentucky. River water disturbed by uplift and subsidence also washed out forested areas upstream. Flatboat operators reported that the flow of the Mississippi River was suddenly reversed; however, scientific studies performed since that time note that the tremors produced northward-moving water waves that gave the illusion that the river reversed its course. They were among the most intense earthquakes in US history and by far the largest to occur east of the Rocky Mountains. On the Mississippi River itself, the shaking calved the soil along riverbanks and caused trees lining the river to fall into the water. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 63(1), 227–248. By Barbara Lewellen Introduction. 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