Tennessee Tectonics


Although Tennessee is in the middle of North America, we are still affected by tectonic activity. There are earthquakes in this region from time to time, thanks to the New Madrid Fault.

This Tectonophysics article helps us understand why there are earthquakes in Tennessee. North America began to rift, or break apart, in the Late Precambrian time. One arm of the attempted rift failed and has since been buried by hundreds of meters of sediment. Sometimes, the plates slip along this lingering deep fault and shake Tennessee and the surrounding states.

The New Madrid Fault is named after New Madrid, Missouri. This USGS article details the historic New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, which were famously large, most breaking a magnitude of 7 on the Richter Scale. The Fault hasn’t wreaked such havoc in the past two centuries, but it does cause a notable quake every once in awhile.

3 thoughts on “Tennessee Tectonics

  1. Hey Halle,

    Thanks for the post! I remember when my family first moved to TN, we were confused as to why we needed earthquake insurance. Someone told us we were on a fault, but I never actually looked anything up about it. Guess you can’t escape science in everyday life!


  2. Hi Halle,

    Thank you for your blog post! It’s incredible to think that the New Madrid Fault can cause such serious earthquakes so close to home. According to this website (http://www.new-madrid.mo.us/index.aspx?nid=132), the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 caused extraordinary natural phenomena such as sand boils, seismoluminescence, and the Mississippi River allegedly running backwards for hours. If the New Madrid fault hasn’t been so active in two hundred years, does it still have the potential to cause such incredible damage — and if so, when might it?


    1. Great question, Chloe! While the New Madrid Fault hasn’t produced earthquakes of this magnitude in the last 200 years, it has produced smaller quakes. This website (http://www.dcclothesline.com/2014/08/22/large-holes-forming-near-new-madrid-fault-giant-crack-earth-north-mexico/) explains that risk may be increasing, as the country and region have been seeing far more earthquakes in recent years. Large holes in the ground have been appearing near the New Madrid Fault recently, so scientists are concerned that the area is quite active and may produce another catastrophic earthquake soon.


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