USGS Takes To The Sky To Learn More About What's Beneath The New Madrid Seismic Zone

Jul 10, 2013

Credit United States Geological Survey

The United States Geological Survey, or USGS, is taking to the sky this week with a low-flying airplane that will map the subsurface of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The plane will collect aeromagnetic data in Missouri’s Bootheel and small slivers of northeastern Arkansas and northwest Tennessee.


The flights are part of a larger USGS study to pinpoint and map undiscovered faults in the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

“There’s a fair amount of seismicity on certain faults within the New Madrid Seismic Zone,” USGS seismologist Oliver Boyd said. “But there are probably other faults within the New Madrid Seismic Zone that we don’t know anything about, that we’ve never been able to image. This information will help us be able to image those faults and maybe provide some constraints on when earthquakes have occurred on those faults.”

Boyd, who is based in Memphis, said the study will provide more information about the region’s seismic history and how often earthquakes can occur.

“The aeromagnetic data will tell us about the magnetic properties of the rocks in about the upper several thousand feet of the crust to the surface,” Boyd said. “That will tell us something about faults, potential faults and other features that may tell us about the earthquake hazard.”

The plane is covering 1,800 square miles and flying at an elevation of 650 feet. The region saw major earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, and continues to be an active seismic zone.