At about 3:34 a.m. on April 13, 1973, a moderate-sized, but widely-felt, earthquake caused extensive damage with loss of 23 lives in a rural area of about 150 km2 centered just south of Laguna de Arenal in northwestern Costa Rica (fig. 1).
This report summarizes the results of the writer‘s reconnaissance investigation of the area that was affected by the earthquake of April 13, 1973. A 4-day field study of the meizoseismal area was carried out during the period from April 28 through May 1 under the auspices of the U.S. Geological Survey. The primary objective of this study was to evaluate geologic factors that contributed to the damage and loss of life. The earthquake was also of special interest because of the possibility that it was accompanied by surface faulting comparable to that which occurred at Managua, Nicaragua, during the disastrous earthquake of December 23, 1972 (Brown, Ward, and Plafker, 1973). Such earthquake-related surface faulting can provide scientifically valuable information on active tectonic processes at shallow depths within the Middle America arc. Also, identification of active faults in this area is of considerable practical importance because of the planned construction of a major hydroelectrical facility within the meizoseismal area by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (I.C.E.). The project would involve creation of a storage reservoir within the Laguna de Arenal basin and part of the Río Arenal valley with a 75 m-high earthfill dam across Río Arenal at a point about 10 km east of the outlet of Laguna de Arenal.