Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Neotectonics and paleoseismology of the Limón and pedro miguel faults in Panamá: earthquake hazard to the Panamá canal

January 1, 2010

We present new geologic, tectonic geomorphic, and geochronologic data on the slip rate, timing, and size of past surface ruptures for the right-lateral Lim??n and Pedro Miguel faults in central Panam??. These faults are part of a system of conjugate faults that accommodate the internal deformation of Panam?? resulting from the ongoing collision of Central and South America. There have been at least three surface ruptures on the Lim??n fault in the past 950-1400 years, with the most recent during the past 365 years. Displacement in this young event is at least 1.2 m (based on trenching) and may be 1.6-2 m (based on small channel offsets). Awell-preserved 4.2 m offset suggests that the penultimate event also sustained significant displacement. The Holocene slip rate has averaged about 6 mm=yr, based on a 30-m offset terrace riser incised into a 5-ka abandoned channel. The Pedro Miguel fault has sustained three surface ruptures in the past 1600 years, the most recent being the 2 May 1621 earthquake that partially destroyed Panam?? Viejo. At least 2.1 m of slip occurred in this event near the Canal, with geomorphic offsets suggesting 2.5-3 m. The historic Camino de Cruces is offset 2.8 m, indicating multimeter displacement over at least 20 km of fault length. Channel offsets of 100-400 m, together with a climate-induced incision model, suggest a Late Quaternary slip rate of about 5 mm=yr, which is consistent with the paleoseismic results. Comparison of the timing of surface ruptures between the Lim??n and Pedro Miguel faults suggests that large earthquakes may rupture both faults with 2-3 m of displacement for over 40 km, such as is likely in earthquakes in the M 7 range. Altogether, our observations indicate that the Lim??n and Pedro Miguel faults represent a significant seismic hazard to central Panam?? and, specifically, to the Canal and Panam?? City.

Publication Year 2010
Title Neotectonics and paleoseismology of the Limón and pedro miguel faults in Panamá: earthquake hazard to the Panamá canal
DOI 10.1785/0120090342
Authors Thomas Rockwell, Edon Gath, Tania Gonzalez, Chris Madden, Danielle Verdugo, Caitlin Lippincott, Tim Dawson, Lewis A. Owen, Markus Fuchs, Ana Cadena, Pat Williams, Elise Weldon, Pastora Franceschi
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
Index ID 70036541
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse