Deep faulting and structural reactivation beneath the southern Illinois basin

John H. McBride, Hannes E. Leetaru, Robert A. Bauer, Brady E. Tingey, Stephanie E.A. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The investigation of deep fault structure and seismogenesis within "stable" continental interiors has been hindered by the paucity of detailed subsurface information and by low levels of seismicity. Outstanding seismotectonic questions for these areas include whether pre-existing structures govern the release of seismic energy as earthquakes, can reactivation of such structures be recognized, and to what extent have Precambrian basement structures exerted long-lived controls on the development of overlying Phanerozoic features. The southern portion of the Illinois basin provides a premier area in which to study the relation between contemporary seismicity and pre-existing structures due to the frequency of seismic events, the concentration of available geophysical data, and the wealth of borehole information. We have integrated the study of this information in order to create a 2.5-dimensional picture of the earth for local seismogenic depths (0-15 km) for a study area of moderate 20th century earthquake activity. The area is located along the western flanks of two of the major structures within the Illinois basin, the Wabash Valley fault system (WVFS) and the La Salle anticlinal belt (LSA). The results of reprocessing seismic reflection profiles, combined with earthquake hypocenter parameters, suggest three distinct seismotectonic environments in the upper crust. First, we have delineated a fault pattern that appears to correspond to the steep nodal plane of a strike-slip mechanism event (1974.04.03; mb = 4.7). The fault pattern is interpreted to be a deeply buried rift zone or zone of intense normal faulting underpinning a major Paleozoic depocenter of the Illinois basin (Fairfield basin). Second, a similar event (1987.06.10; mb = 5.2) and its well-located aftershocks define a narrow zone of deformation that occurs along and parallel to the frontal thrust of the LSA. Third, the hypocenter of the largest event in the study area (1968.11.09; mb = 5.5) may be spatially associated with a prominent zone of dipping middle crustal reflections, just west of the WVFS, which have been interpreted as a deeply buried blind thrust. The proposed correlation of pre-existing structures with earthquakes having consistently oriented structural parameters supports the reactivation of old deformation zones by contemporary stresses as previously proposed by earlier workers. However, the degree to which deformation has propagated upward from Precambrian basement into the Paleozoic rocks varied significantly even over a small study area. The societal value of associating an earthquake with a specific pre-existing deformation zone in the seismogenic crust is to improve the assessment of seismic hazard or to assess the integrity of a stratigraphic formation, being considered as a target for natural gas storage or carbon sequestration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-313
Number of pages25
JournalPrecambrian Research
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2007


  • Earthquakes
  • Faulting
  • Illinois basin
  • Reactivation
  • Seismic reflection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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