Reassessing the New Madrid Seismic Zone


  • Gail Atkinson,

  • Bill Bakun,

  • Paul Bodin,

  • David Boore,

  • Chris Camer,

  • Art Frankel,

  • Paulo Gasperini,

  • Joan Gomberg,

    1. U.S. Geological Survey, 2876 Central Avenue, Memphis, Tenn. 38152, USA
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  • Tom Hanks,

  • Bob Hermann,

  • Susan Hough,

  • Arch Johnston,

  • Shelley Kenner,

  • Chuck Langston,

  • Mark Linker,

  • Paul Mayne,

  • Mark Petersen,

  • Christine Powell,

  • Will Prescott,

  • Eugene Schweig,

  • Paul Segall,

  • Seth Stein,

  • Bill Stuart,

  • Martitia Tuttle,

  • Roy VanArsdale


The central enigma of the mid-continent region in the United States known as the New Madrid seismic zone (NMSZ; Figure 1) involves the mechanisms that give rise to recurrent great earthquakes far from plate boundaries. Given the lack of significant topographic relief that is the hallmark of tectonic activity in most actively deforming regions, most of us feel a need to “pinch ourselves to see if we're dreaming” when confronted with evidence that, at some probability levels, the earthquake hazard throughout the NMSZ is comparable to that estimated for the San Francisco Bay region.

Although assessing the hazard in the NMSZ is in many ways more challenging than in the western United States, and the uncertainties are much greater, careful scientific study has led to a consensus on the issues most critical to seismic hazard assessment.