Ferreting Out the Hidden Cracks in the Heart of a Continent

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Science  27 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6067, pp. 397
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6067.397

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A network of ancient faults could be influencing the so-called New Madrid seismic zone in the central United States, which has been crackling with tiny earthquakes ever since a series of large ones 200 years ago. Looking beyond the faults thought to be responsible for the 1811–12 events, seismologists and geologists are discovering evidence for faults outside the active zone that may be less predictable than anyone suspected. Last month at the American Geophysical Union meeting, researchers reported new data showing how buried faults both inside and outside the New Madrid Seismic Zone have warped the continental crust there over millions of years. That means the seismogenic zone might be larger than has been revealed by modern seismicity—and that unrecorded earthquakes may have rocked now-quiet regions in the interior.

  • * Naomi Lubick is a freelance writer based in Stockholm.