North-Central Section - 50th Annual Meeting - 2016

Paper No. 15-6
Presentation Time: 3:10 PM


ZHAN, Yan, Geology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 107 E Springfield Ave, Apt 302, Champaign, IL 61820; Geology, Peking University, Yiheyuan Rd. #5, Haidian Dst, Beijing, 100871, China, GREGG, Patricia, Geology, University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, 152 Computer Applications Building, 605 E. Springfield Ave., Champaign, IL 61820 and HOU, Guiting, Geology, Peking University, Yiheyuan Rd. #5, Haidian Dst, Beijing, 100871, China,

The New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) in the Midwestern United States is the site of several major M 6.8-8 earthquakes in 1811-1812, and remains seismically active. Although this region has been investigated extensively, the ultimate controls on earthquake initiation and the duration of the seismicity remains unclear. In this study, we develop a finite element model for the Central United States to conduct a series of numerical experiments with the goal of determining the impact of heterogeneity in the upper crust, the lower crust, and the mantle on earthquake nucleation and rupture processes. Regional seismic tomography data (CITE) are utilized to infer the viscosity structure of the lithosphere which provide an important input to the numerical models. Results indicate that when differential stresses build in the Central United States, the stresses accumulating beneath the Reelfoot Rift in the NMSZ are highly concentrated, whereas the stresses below the geologically similar Midcontinent Rift System are comparatively low. The numerical observations coincide with the observed distribution of seismicity throughout the region. By comparing the numerical results with three reference models, we argue that an extensive mantle low velocity zone beneath the NMSZ produces differential stress localization in the layers above. Furthermore, the relatively strong crust in this region, exhibited by high seismic velocities, enables the elevated stress to extend to the base of the ancient rift system, reactivating fossil rifting faults and therefore triggering earthquakes. These results show that, if boundary displacements are significant, the NMSZ is able to localize tectonic stresses, which may be released when faults close to failure are triggered by external processes such as melting of the Laurentide icesheet or rapid river incision.