Several anecdotal accounts provide compelling evidence that liquefaction occurred at several sites in Illinois during the 1811-1812 New Madrid sequence, as much as 250 km north of the New Madrid seismic zone (NMSZ). At one Wabash Valley location, sand blows are still evident near Big Prairie, Illinois, a location described in a particularly detailed and precise historic account. This account includes descriptions of substantial liquefaction (sand blows) as well as a two-mile-long east-west-trending "crack" along which two feet of south-side-down displacement occurred. An offset can no longer be seen at this location, which has been extensively farmed and plowed for decades. Field reconnaissance verifies many of the details provided in the account, however. We conducted a seismic-reflection experiment at this location and observed a modest offset in the Paleozoic strata at this location. The offset is opposite to that described in the historic account, consistent with the hypothesis that large midcontinent earthquakes occur on faults reactivated in a Holocene stress regime different from the one in which they were formed. Only two explanations can account for these observations: Either large NMSZ events triggered substantial liquefaction at distances greater than hitherto realized, or at least one large "New Madrid" event occurred significantly north of the NMSZ. We explore these possibilities and conclude that, while neither one can be ruled out, several disparate lines of evidence suggest that the 23 January 1812 "New Madrid mainshock" occurred in White County, Illinois, near the location of the mb 5.5 1968 southern Illinois earthquake and recent microearthquake activity.
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Wagon loads of sand blows in White County, Illinois