According to some compilations, the Laguna Salada, Baja California, earthquake of 23 February 1892 ranks among the largest earthquakes in California and Baja California in historic times. Although surface rupture was not documented at the time of the earthquake, recent geologic investigations have identified and mapped a rupture on the Laguna Salada fault that can be associated with high probability with the 1892 event (Mueller and Rockwell, 1995). The only intensity-based magnitude estimate for the earthquake, M 7.8, was made by Strand (1980) based on an interpretation of macroseismic effects and a comparison of isoseismal areas with those from instrumentally recorded earthquakes. In this study we reinterpret original accounts of the Laguna Salada earthquake. We assign modified Mercalli intensity (MMI) values in keeping with current practice, focusing on objective descriptions of damage rather than subjective human response and not assigning MMI values to effects that are now known to be poor indicators of shaking level, such as liquefaction and rockfalls. The reinterpreted isoseismal contours and the estimated magnitude are both significantly smaller than those obtained earlier. Using the method of Bakun and Wentworth (1997) we obtain a magnitude estimate of M 7.2 and an optimal epicenter less than 15 km from the center of the mapped Laguna Salada rupture. The isoseismal contours are elongated toward the northwest, which is qualitatively consistent with a directivity effect, assuming that the fault ruptured from southeast to northwest. We suggest that the elongation may also thus reflect wave propagation effects, with more efficient propagation of crustal surface (Lg) waves in the direction of the overall regional tectonic fabric.
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Revisiting the 23 February 1892 Laguna Salada earthquake