Narrow grabens displace Quaternary sediments near the northern edge of the Mississippi Embayment in extreme southern Illinois, east-central United States. Grabens are part of the Fluorspar Area Fault Complex (FAFC), which has been recurrently active throughout Phanerozoic time. The FAFC strikes directly toward the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), scene of some of the largest intra-plate earthquakes in history. The NMSZ and FAFC share origin in a failed Cambrian rift (Reelfoot Rift). Every major fault zone of the FAFC in Illinois exhibits Quaternary displacement. The structures appear to be strike-slip pull-apart grabens, but the magnitude and direction of horizontal slip and their relationship to the current stress field are unknown. Upper Tertiary strata are vertically displaced more than 100 m, Illinoian and older Pleistocene strata 10 to 30 m, and Wisconsinan deposits 1 m or less. No Holocene deformation has been observed. Average vertical slip rates are estimated at 0.01 to 0.03 mm/year, and recurrence intervals for earthquakes of magnitude 6 to 7 are on the order of 10,000s of years for any given fault. Previous authors remarked that the small amount of surface deformation in the New Madrid area implies that the NMSZ is a young feature. Our findings show that tectonic activity has shifted around throughout the Quaternary in the central Mississippi Valley. In addition to the NMSZ and southern Illinois, the Wabash Valley (Illinois-Indiana), Benton Hills (Missouri), Crowley's Ridge (Arkansas-Missouri), and possibly other sites have experienced Quaternary tectonism. The NMSZ may be only the latest manifestation of seismicity in an intensely fractured intra-plate region.
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Quaternary grabens in southernmost Illinois: Deformation near an active intraplate seismic zone