We present evidence that at least two of the three 1811-1812 New Madrid, central United States, mainshocks and the 1886 Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake triggered earthquakes at regional distances. In addition to previously published evidence for triggered earthquakes in the northern Kentucky/southern Ohio region in 1812, we present evidence suggesting that triggered events might have occurred in the Wabash Valley, to the south of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and near Charleston, South Carolina. We also discuss evidence that earthquakes might have been triggered in northern Kentucky within seconds of the passage of surface waves from the 23 January 1812 New Madrid mainshock. After the 1886 Charleston earthquake, accounts suggest that triggered events occurred near Moodus, Connecticut, and in southern Indiana. Notwithstanding the uncertainty associated with analysis of historical accounts, there is evidence that at least three out of the four known Mw 7 earthquakes in the central and eastern United States seem to have triggered earthquakes at distances beyond the typically assumed aftershock zone of 1-2 mainshock fault lengths. We explore the possibility that remotely triggered earthquakes might be common in low-strain-rate regions. We suggest that in a low-strain-rate environment, permanent, nonelastic deformation might play a more important role in stress accumulation than it does in interplate crust. Using a simple model incorporating elastic and anelastic strain release, we show that, for realistic parameter values, faults in intraplate crust remain close to their failure stress for a longer part of the earthquake cycle than do faults in high-strain-rate regions. Our results further suggest that remotely triggered earthquakes occur preferentially in regions of recent and/or future seismic activity, which suggests that faults are at a critical stress state in only some areas. Remotely triggered earthquakes may thus serve as beacons that identify regions of long-lived stress concentration.
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Intraplate triggered earthquakes: Observations and interpretation