Sinking sand, sand boils, LIQUEFACTION
Put some sand in a bucket. Place a small block on the top of the sand, and gradually saturate the sand with water. The block still rests on the surface. Now, strike the bucket sharply, and watch the block of wood quickly drop. This is called "liquefaction". The same can happen to houses built, as the Bible says, "like a foolish man who built his house on sand." (Matt. 7:26)
“Imagine a cube full of sand and water. If you press it in from both sides (compressing and releasing it, then compressing it again), you build up what’s called pore-water pressure,” said Martitia Tuttle, geologist and consultant for the U.S. Geological Survey. “It’s like shaking a coke can — when the pressure builds up and you release it, the fluid comes shooting to the surface.”
These fountains of water can sometimes shoot as high as 30 feet into the air, according to Tuttle.
A sandboil / sandblow. Paleoseismologists can learn a great deal by studying them.
Memphis' city and county government in 1991 built a 32-story pyramid on its riverfront. It could hold 20,000 spectators, is the size of six football fields, is slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty, and held great promise as sports arena/convention center. In 1992 the city started considering earthquake construction standards. The pyramid sits smack dab on a Mississippi River sandbar. Guess what could happen to 20,000 spectators in the event of a major quake. It is being remodeled into a huge sporting goods store.
Author David Stewart says the Bootheel Lineament, now called Bootheel Fault, runs from 9 miles west of New Madrid to 4 miles west of Blytheville. He said in "Damage and Losses from future New Madrid Earthquakes" (1994) that this line, although not where the primary shaking happens nowadays, has some of the most sandboils (past activity) of this area.
Open Google earth, and find a couple of sandboils 2.3 miles south of Catron, Mo., which is west of New Madrid. They have been partially farmed over. See how many you can find. See examples below. Caution: some of the white puffiness will be clouds. Others may be "borrow pits" along highways, made during highway construction.
A sandblow / sandboil just west of New Madrid, from Google Earth.
"Geology students called it 'the Beach'. Located in Pemiscot County, Mo., near the town of Deering, the 136-acre strand is purported to be the largest sand boil in the world, a vestige of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812." Riverfront Times. The Google Earth image below may be "the beach". This image is near Deering. A similar sandblow is "Daytona Beach" SW of Memphis along the Marianna fault. Some of the sand has been scooped out and such areas turned into rice production. One half-acre plot we found is not noticeably different from surroundings except it has erosion control grasses on it (nothing else will grow) and on close examination is covered with whitish sand.
Construction has gone on in the Bootheel, sometimes oblivious to soil problems. Consider the industrial park at Marston (below).,
The Noranda Aluminum plant and Associated Electric power plant are together, in mid-right of above photo. Note the sandy soil elements in bottom center of picture. Town of Marston is at left. Marston rest area of I-55 is at top. New Madrid is just upriver. The power plant with its 800 foot smokestack, (just north of the aluminum plant) (pic) is near ground zero of the largest quake ever to hit the U.S. See the red box 5 in image below.
Sikeston Municipal power plant just NW of town is in lower right. Smokestack in middle of complex does not show up properly on Google Earth. Note the oval of discolored soil just north of the plant that seems to run underneath the power station. A brighter patch (not shown) similar to "the beach" above, but smaller, is a few miles north of power plant.
US 412 heads for Kennett to the left. I-155 toward Dyersburg on the right, from Hayti-Caruthersville intersection of I-55. Note the sandy spots of soil in lower left of picture. These may indicate previous sand blows. Consider what sandy soil and liquefaction could do to heavy interstate bridges and pavement during a serious earthquake. I-55 is the main connection between St. Louis and Memphis and between Chicago and New Orleans.
Above illustration puts you in mid-Bootheel of Missouri, looking north at US 60 with Sikeston on the right, Poplar Bluff on the left. A section of Crowley's Ridge in the middle, runs north-south through Dexter-Bloomfield.
During the Civil War, the yellow on the right (between Dexter and Sikeston) was a swamp, with waist deep water, which inhibited troop movement. In a big shake, the yellow area, running north-south, would see the most liquefaction. Note location of I-55 at right.
“The ground failure that resulted from liquefaction during the New Madrid earthquakes was severe. We're talking about vertical displacement of 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters), and lateral displacement up to 33 feet (10 meters),” said Tuttle. “A recurrence of that type of event would have severe consequences for engineered structures.” NASA
Above: Another sandboil, farmed over, just east of New Madrid.
In a letter published in Lorenzo Dow’s Journal, New Madrid resident Eliza Bryan wrote in 1816:
. . . the surface of hundreds of acres was, from time to time, covered over in various depths by the sand which issued from the fissures, which were made in great numbers all over this country, some of which closed up immediately after they had vomited forth their sand and water . . .
Above: Apparent sandblows straddle I-55 just south of Sikeston.
Below: apparent sandblows just east of Malden.
Next photo shows apparent sandblows just north of Malden.
Above: Big Lake National Wildlife Reserve, west of Blytheville, Ark, once a free-flowing river system, changed to a lake / swamp ecosystem by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. Big Lake today consists primarily of wooded swamps and open water with an average depth of three feet, bordered by a virgin cypress-tupelo swamp. Five large drainage ditches empty into the reserve. Blytheville Air Base is at top right.
Using paleoliquefaction and archeological evidence, Tuttle and Schweig (1995) determined that two, possibly three prehistoric earthquakes, occurred near Blytheville, AR in the past 5000 to 6000 years. One sand blow crater in the area was dated between A.D. 800 and 1400, and another between A.D. 800 and 1670.
According to Tuttle and Schweig, prehistoric liquefaction features in the Blytheville area suggest recurrence intervals of hundreds of years for earthquakes large enough (mb = 6.2) to cause liquefaction. The prehistoric liquefaction features found were equal to or larger than the liquefaction features formed by the 1811-1812 earthquakes. This suggests that the prehistoric earthquakes may have been of similar sizes and type to the 1811-1812 earthquakes.
Kelson, et al., (1994), found evidence of three prehistoric earthquake events in the last 2400 years while studying the Reelfoot scarp. Saucier (1991) also identified paleoliquefaction features in the NMSZ. Paleoliquefaction features found near Reelfoot Lake were interpreted as being formed by two large prehistoric earthquakes that occurred within the past 1500 years.
Aftershocks strong enough to be felt continued through 1817. The earthquakes were felt over an area of 5 million km2 (Van Arsdale, 1997), more than any other earthquake in American history. The area experiencing a Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) (Table 3.1) of V or greater was approximately 2.5 million km2 (Nuttli, 1973).
This area of strong shaking is two to three times greater than the area affected by the 1964 Alaska earthquake and 10 times larger than the area affected by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (Stover and Coffman, 1993). Figure 3.6 is a map showing the Modified Mercalli Intensities experienced during the December 16, 1811 earthquake.
The December 16th earthquake was so severe that it awakened people as far away as Pittsburgh, PA, and Norfolk, VA. The felt areas of the three largest earthquakes extended to the gulf coast to the south, the Atlantic coast to the southeast, and to Quebec, Canada, in the northeast. Major topographic changes, including large ground fissures, sand blows, sunk lands, caving of river banks, and disappearing islands in the Mississippi River affected an area between 78,000 and 130,000 km2 (von Hake, 1974; Stover and Coffman, 1993).
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