M3.7 earthquake hits the New Madrid Fault Zone in Arkansas – More than 2500 reports from Missouri and Arkansas

A 3.7 magnitude earthquake rumbled parts of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas early Thursday, Sept. 12.

The quake hit at 1:42 a.m. near Gassville, Arkansas, around the Missouri border.

A M3.7 earthquake hit the New Madrid Fault Zone in Gassville, Arkansas on April 12, 2019. Map by USGS

About 4 hours later, the USGS received more than 2500 reports of people feeling the quake, including areas as far north as Springfield, Mo., as far east as West Plains, Mo., and near Mountain Home, Ark.

The New Madrid Fault Zone

Way back in 1811 and 1812, a series of over 1,000 earthquakes rocked the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Memphis. One was so powerful that it caused the river to run backwards for a few hours.

Today, scientists say that the 150-mile-long New Madrid Seismic Zone has a terrifying 40% chance to blast in the next few decades, impacting 7 states – Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi – with 715,000 buildings damaged and 2.6 millions of people left without power.

new madrid earthquake seismic zone, new madrid earthquakes, new madrid fault
map shows earthquakes (circles) of the New Madrid and Wabash Valley
seismic zones (orange patches). Red circles indicate earthquakes that
occurred from 1974 to 2002 with magnitudes larger than 2.5 located using
modern instruments (University of Memphis). Green circles denote
earthquakes that occurred prior to 1974 (USGS Professional Paper 1527).
Larger earthquakes are represented by larger circles. via USGS

The New Madrid Seismic Zone, sometimes called the New Madrid Fault Line, is a major active seismic zone in the southern and midwestern United States. As shown in the map above, it stretches to the southwest from New Madrid, Missouri.

Earthquakes that occur in the New Madrid Seismic Zone potentially threaten parts of 8 US states: Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Akansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi.

The New Madrid fault system was responsible for the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes, an intense intraplate earthquake series that began with an initial earthquake of moment magnitude 7.5–7.9 on December 16, 1811, and was followed by a moment magnitude 7.4 aftershock on the same day.

They remain the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history.

Unlike California, which has been super-prepared since the last major earthquake hit hard enough to delay the World Series, the New Madrid fault area has been sitting blissfully by.

In case the “40 percent” statistic didn’t bother you, this should: The New Madrid fault has an impact zone ten times as big as its more famous San Andreas cousin and most residents from all of the bordering states on the fault are totally unprepared, and the infrastructure is decades overdue for some quakeproofing. See te image below:

new madrid versus san andreas, most dangerous fault lines in the usa, new madrid seismic zone vs san andreas fault, strongest fault line in the usa, new madrid earthquake overdue
New Madrid Fault versus the San Andreas Fault: The map compares the
isoseismals from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1811-1812 New
Madrid quakes. The New Madrid Fault is much more powerful. Map by

Why Quakes at New Madrid Feel Stronger Than San Andreas Quakes

The unique geology in the Midwest increases the shaking intensity of earthquakes because energy from the New Madrid seismic zone moves through the dense bedrock underlying the mid-continent region at very high speeds, then becomes trapped in the soft sediments filling river channels and valleys. 

Ground shaking would be magnified about 600 percent within the flood plain of the Missouri River, a development that would predict soil liquefaction and cause most of Missouri’s existing long-span bridges to collapse.       

In contrast, the geology of California is thoroughly fractured by a series of faults, which, fortunately, serve to dampen seismic energy.

Now you know, a moderate to strong New Madrid earthquake in 2019 would be a national disaster. The real economic threat to the entire country is the disruption of communication and transportation lines, and underground pipelines, that move through the Midwest.

Lastly, you don’t get a warning from an earthquake. So my best advice if you live in this dangerous seismic active area of the United States is to have an earthquake plan – if you still don’t have one. And don’t wait too long, the next New Madrid Earthquake is slowly but surely building up!

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