Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Studies related to the Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake of 1886 — Tectonics and seismicity

January 1, 1983

Since 1973, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), with support from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has conducted extensive investigations of the tectonic and seismic history of the Charleston, S.C., earthquake zone and surrounding areas. The goal of these investigations has been to discover the cause of the large intraplate Charleston earthquake of 1886, which dominates the record of seismicity in the Southeastern United States, through an understanding of the historic and modern seismicity at Charleston and of the tectonic setting of the seismicity. This goal is being pursued to evaluate the potential for additional large earthquakes in the Charleston area and surrounding regions and to determine whether the Charleston area differs tectonically in any significant fashion from other parts of the Southeastern United States. An understanding of the specific cause for the 1886 event and of the regional distribution of any structures that are generically related to or geometrically and mechanically similar to the source structure is essential for evaluation of seismic hazards throughout the Southeast.

The results given herein represent significant progress toward understanding the tectonic setting of the Charleston-area seismicity. Several chapters in the volume address the distribution and origin of pre-Cretaceous rocks and structures beneath Coastal Plain sediments in the Charleston area and regionally beneath the southern Atlantic Coastal Plain and adjacent Continental Shelf. The modern seismicity at Charleston is occurring at depths equal to or greater than the known extent of these older structures, and rejuvenation of an older fault in the modern stress field is a possible cause of the seismicity. Accordingly, several chapters discuss the possible relationships of the various pre-Cretaceous structures to faults identified near Charleston that have a known Cretaceous and Cenozoic movement history and to the historic and instrumentally recorded seismicity. However, at the present time, none of the young structures can be related unequivocally to the seismicity because earthquake fault-plane solutions and hypocenter distributions do not agree with the locations and orientations of these structures. Therefore, a major emphasis of continuing USGS investigations near Charleston will be to identify additional faults, if any exist, to delineate fault movement histories, and to further refine earthquake locations, focal mechanisms, and related seismological interpretations.

Publication Year 1983
Title Studies related to the Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake of 1886 — Tectonics and seismicity
DOI 10.3133/pp1313
Authors David Gottfried, C. S. Annell, G. R. Byerly, Marvin A. Lanphere, Jeffrey D. Phillips, Gregory S. Gohn, Brenda B. Houser, Ray R. Schneider, Hans D. Ackermann, B. R. Yantis, John K. Costain, F. Steve Schilt, Larry Brown, Jack E. Oliver, Sidney Kaufman, Robert Morrison Hamilton, John C. Behrendt, V. James Henry, Kenneth C. Bayer, David L. Daniels, Isidore Zietz, Peter Popenoe, T. M. Chowns, C. T. Williams, Robert E. Dooley, J. Wampler, William P. Dillon, Kim D. Klitgord, Charles K. Paull, Lyle D. McGinnis, James W. Dewey, Arthur C. Tarr, Susan Rhea, Carl M. Wentworth, Marcia Mergner-Keefer, G. A. Bollinger
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1313
Index ID pp1313
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center