There is broad agreement in the scientific community that a continuing concern exists for a major destructive earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone. Many structures in Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, Mo., and other communities in the central Mississippi River Valley region are vulnerable and at risk from severe ground shaking. This assessment is based on decades of research on New Madrid earthquakes and related phenomena by dozens of Federal, university, State, and consulting earth scientists.
Considerable interest has developed recently from media reports that the New Madrid seismic zone may be shutting down. These reports stem from published research using global positioning system (GPS) instruments with results of geodetic measurements of strain in the Earth's crust. Because of a lack of measurable strain at the surface in some areas of the seismic zone over the past 14 years, arguments have been advanced that there is no buildup of stress at depth within the New Madrid seismic zone and that the zone may no longer pose a significant hazard.
As part of the consensus-building process used to develop the national seismic hazard maps, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) convened a workshop of experts in 2006 to evaluate the latest findings in earthquake hazards in the Eastern United States. These experts considered the GPS data from New Madrid available at that time that also showed little to no ground movement at the surface. The experts did not find the GPS data to be a convincing reason to lower the assessment of earthquake hazard in the New Madrid region, especially in light of the many other types of data that are used to construct the hazard assessment, several of which are described here.