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Keywords:

  • earthquake;
  • magnitude;
  • historical

[1] At the heart of the conundrum of seismogenesis in the New Madrid Seismic Zone is the apparently substantial discrepancy between low strain rate and high recent seismic moment release. In this study we revisit the magnitudes of the four principal 1811–1812 earthquakes using intensity values determined from individual assessments from four experts. Using these values and the grid search method of Bakun and Wentworth (1997), we estimate magnitudes around 7.0 for all four events, values that are significantly lower than previously published magnitude estimates based on macroseismic intensities. We further show that the strain rate predicted from postglacial rebound is sufficient to produce a sequence with the moment release of one Mmax6.8 every 500 years, a rate that is much lower than previous estimates of late Holocene moment release. However, Mw6.8 is at the low end of the uncertainty range inferred from analysis of intensities for the largest 1811–1812 event. We show that Mw6.8 is also a reasonable value for the largest main shock given a plausible rupture scenario. One can also construct a range of consistent models that permit a somewhat higher Mmax, with a longer average recurrence rate. It is thus possible to reconcile predicted strain and seismic moment release rates with alternative models: one in which 1811–1812 sequences occur every 500 years, with the largest events being Mmax∼6.8, or one in which sequences occur, on average, less frequently, with Mmax of ∼7.0. Both models predict that the late Holocene rate of activity will continue for the next few to 10 thousand years.