Historical perspective on seismic hazard to Hispaniola and the northeast Caribbean region
ten Brink, Uri S.
Bakun, William H.
Flores, Claudia H.
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We evaluate the long-term seismic activity of the North-American/Caribbean plate boundary from 500 years of historical earthquake damage reports. The 2010 Haiti earthquakes and other earthquakes were used to derive regional attenuation relationships between earthquake intensity, magnitude, and distance from the reported damage to the epicenter, for Hispaniola and for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The attenuation relationship for Hispaniola earthquakes and northern Lesser Antilles earthquakes is similar to that for California earthquakes, indicating a relatively rapid attenuation of damage intensity with distance. Intensities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands decrease less rapidly with distance. We use the intensity-magnitude relationships to systematically search for the location and intensity magnitude MI which best fit all the reported damage for historical earthquakes. Many events occurred in the 20th-century along the plate-boundary segment from central Hispaniola to the NW tip of Puerto Rico, but earlier events from this segment were not identified. The remaining plate boundary to the east to Guadeloupe is probably not associated with M > 8 historical subduction-zone earthquakes. The May 2, 1787 earthquake, previously assigned an M 8–8.25, is probably only MI 6.9 and could be located north, west or SW of Puerto Rico. An MI 6.9 earthquake on July 11, 1785 was probably located north or east of the Virgin Islands. We located MI < 8 historical earthquakes on April 5, 1690, February 8, 1843, and October 8, 1974 in the northern Lesser Antilles within the arc. We speculate that the December 2, 1562 (MI 7.7) and May 7, 1842 (MI 7.6) earthquakes ruptured the Septentrional Fault in northern Hispaniola. If so, the recurrence interval on the central Septentrional Fault is ∼300 years, and only 170 years has elapsed since the last event. The recurrence interval of large earthquakes along the Hispaniola subduction segment is likely longer than the historical record. Intra-arc M ≥ 7.0 earthquakes may occur every 75–100 years in the 410-km-long segment between the Virgin Islands and Guadeloupe.
This paper is not subject to U.S. copyright. The definitive version was published in Journal of Geophysical Research 116 (2011): B12318, doi:10.1029/2011JB008497.
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