Valencius, Conevery Bolton. Research indicates that the 1811–1812 New Madrid earthquake sequence was preceded by at least two similar earthquake sequences in about 1450 AD and 900 AD, and that over the past 5,000 years or so, other large earthquakes have also occurred in the region surrounding the main area of the currently active New Madrid seismic zone. This shock followed the first earthquake by six hours and was similar in intensity; 23 January 1812 (7.3-7.6), epicenter in the Missouri bootheel; 7 February 1812 (7.5-8.0), epicenter near New Madrid The maximum documented intensity for both earthquakes on December 16, 1811, is MM intensity VIII at Richmond, Kentucky. During the winter of 1811 to 1812, the sparsely populated New Madrid, Mo., area was jolted by a series of three powerful earthquakes now estimated to have been of magnitude 7.5 to 8.3. 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. 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. The New Madrid region continues to have the highest level of seismicity activity in the United States east of the Rockies. Dear Sir: 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. According to his reckoning, the earth had become lodged between the comet’s two horns and was now attempting to dislodge itself. Eyewitness accounts noted that the shaking rang church bells as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, and brought down chimneys in Cincinnati, Ohio, about 360 miles (580 km) away. Every where Nature itself seemed tottering on the verge of dissolution.”. Rev. Since 1812, frequent smaller earthquakes have been recorded in the area. Magnitude estimates for each of the three events associated with the 1811–12 earthquake sequence vary widely, largely because they rely on historical accounts and analyses of the present-day landscape rather than data provided by modern seismic instrumentation. 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. These are estimated at between 7 and 8 on the richter scale. On the Mississippi River itself, the shaking calved the soil along riverbanks and caused trees lining the river to fall into the water. 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. In addition, Lake St. Francis in Arkansas, a water body formed by subsidence that followed earlier earthquakes associated with the NMSZ, expanded. The US government did not provide victims of the destructive earthquakes with relief until the War of 1812 had ended. Over the years, estimates have placed the 1811-12 quakes’ magnitudes anywhere from under 7.0 to 8.5—an enormous range given that one additional unit … 69, passed by the 13th Session of Congress on February 25, 1814, … River water disturbed by uplift and subsidence also washed out forested areas upstream. This region had 4 major 8.0+ magnitude earthquakes from December 1811-February 1812, during the Dalton Minimum (which included the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816), as well as during other periods of intense seismic activity during solar grand minima. 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. On land the impact of the earthquakes was no less horrific. 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. See Magnitude - replaces Richter scale. In American settlements and on Native ground alike, people debated the earthquakes’ causes and struggled to discover the cataclysms’ larger meanings and purposes. 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. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1981. At dawn’s first light Pierce beheld the full extent of devastation wrought by the nighttime shocks: “the earth, river &c torn with furious convulsions, opened in huge trenches whose deep jaws were instantaneously closed: there through a thousand vents sulphureous streams gushed from its very bowels leaving vast and almost unfathomable caverns. The backwoods claimant of spiritual knowledge feared that these ominous occurrences might portend the approach of the end times. Despite the strength of the tremors, only minor damage to human-made structures was reported: from collapsing chimneys, falling trees, and cracking timbers in houses. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The strongest aftershock, a magnitude-7.0 tremor that became known as the “dawn aftershock,” occurred later that day at 7:15 am. Although many people think of California’s San Andreas fault, which birthed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, as the most dangerous in North America, the quakes from 1811 to 1812 that erupted from the New Madrid Seismic Zone were the most destructive. By Barbara Lewellen Introduction. They were among the most intense earthquakes in US history and by far the largest to occur east of the Rocky Mountains. The potential for earthquakes in the New Madrid region continues to the present day. Damage to the landscape included the warping of the ground through subsidence (sinking) and uplift, sand blows, ground cracking, landslides, and stream bank calving. There were thousands of aftershocks, of which 1,874 were large enough to be felt in Louisville, Kentucky, about 190 miles (300 km) away. The waters of the Mississippi rose and fell like a great tide. 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. The first earthquake of this series on December 16, 1811, was located in northeast Arkansas. At nearby Little Prairie the devastation was so severe that the entire population abandoned the town and headed northward, where the damage was rumored to have been less serious. Between December 16, 1811, and February 7, 1812, seven earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 to 7.5 on the Richter scale and numerous lesser aftershocks ravaged the affected area. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 63(1), 227–248. Hundreds of aftershocks were felt in 1813. Fissures opened in the ground; some were filled with water from the nearby Mississippi River or wetlands, which was later expelled high into the air when the fissures closed. Reports indicate that between December 1811 and March 1812, there were over 2000 earthquakes and aftershocks along the New Madrid fault. Amid the deafening din of crashing trees, collapsing riverbanks, and screaming wild birds, he sought to reassure the frightened crewmen eager to abandon the boat for the perceived safety of the shore. During the early hours of December 16, 1811, a series of violent shakes roused inhabitants of the mid-Mississippi valley from their nighttime slumbers. The … Reelfoot Lake, near Tiptonville, Tennessee. A slightly different version of this essay, “Turbulence and Terror: The New Madrid Earthquakes, 1811–1812,” appeared in the November 2017 issue of We Proceeded On, published by the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Large waves formed on the water that capsized numerous boats and thrust others onto the land. The active faults in the New Madrid Seismic Zone are difficult to assess because they are hidden beneath thick layers of soft river-deposited soils, but current US Geological Survey maps show it to be a high hazard zone comparable to those in California. 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. The recent minor tremors of the Mississippi valley recall the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. They were among the most intense earthquakes in US history and by far the largest to occur east of the Rocky Mountains. The location of the earthquake’s epicentre is controversial, but it is thought to have been located in the vicinity of New Madrid, Missouri, along a fault that runs perpendicular to the Reelfoot Fault. Some areas sank, while others were uplifted. 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. The main shock that occurred at 2:15 am on December 16, 1811, was a result of slippage along the Cottonwood Grove Fault in northeastern Arkansas. Citation Hough, S. E. (2002). The Mississippi Valley Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812: Intensities, Ground Motion, and Magnitudes. The upthrusting of the land some 15 miles (24 km) to the south of the epicentre pushed water into a basin that dropped 5 to 20 feet (1.5 to 6 metres) and created Reelfoot Lake, which is located 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. https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. Attempts to link the bright and long-appearing comet of 1811 to the onset of the North American earthquakes were commonplace among Euro-American and Native American observers alike. New Madrid, Territory, Missouri, March 22, 1816. To improve this article ( requires login ) its environs powerful earthquakes to hit contiguous! From a scientific perspective, chose not to challenge the settler’s firmly held beliefs happened December 16, 1811 February. 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