Stress evolution and seismicity in the central-eastern USA: insights from geodynamic modeling


Qingsong Li, Mian Liu*, Qie Zhang, and Eric Sandvol


Dept. of Geological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211


Although the central and eastern United States is in the interior of the presumably stable North American plate, seismicity there is widespread, and its causes remain uncertain. Here we explore the evolution of stress and strain energy in intraplate seismic zones and contrast it with that in interplate seismic zones using simple viscoelastic finite-element models. We find that large intraplate earthquakes can significantly increase Coulomb stress and strain energy in the surrounding crust. The inherited strain energy may dominate the local strain energy budget for thousands of years following main shocks, in contrast to interplate seismic zones, where strain energy is dominated by tectonic loading. We show that strain energy buildup from the 1811-1812 large events in the New Madrid seismic zone may explain some of the moderate-sized earthquakes in this region since 1812 and that the inherited strain energy is capable of producing some damaging earthquakes (M>6) today in southern Illinois and eastern Arkansas, even in the absence of local loading. Without local loading, however, the New Madrid seismic zone would have remained in a stress shadow where stress has not been fully restored from the 1811-1812 events. We also derived a Pn velocity map of the Central and eastern United States using available seismic data, the results do not support the NMSZ being a zone of thermal weakening. We simulated the long-term Coulomb stress in the central and eastern United States. The predicted high Coulomb stress concentrates near the margins of the North American tectosphere, correlating spatially with most seismicity in the central and eastern United States.