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After the Earth QuakesElastic Rebound on an Urban Planet$
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Susan Elizabeth Hough and Roger G. Bilham

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195179132

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195179132.001.0001

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19th-Century Temblors: A Science Is Born

19th-Century Temblors: A Science Is Born

(p.85) 5 19th-Century Temblors: A Science Is Born
After the Earth Quakes

Susan Elizabeth Hough

Roger G. Bilham

Oxford University Press

When the 1811–1812 New Madrid earthquakes rocked the North American midcontinent, the state of seismology as a modern field of inquiry matched that of the United States as a country: a few steps beyond a collection of struggling colonies but still very much a work in progress. Inevitably the New Madrid earthquakes caught the attention of some of the best and most scientifically trained individuals who experienced the remarkable sequence. Jared Brooks, Daniel Drake, Samuel Mitchell—all endeavored to document their observations, and other data, in a thorough and scientific manner, and all had some awareness of theories of the day. Yet in retrospect, contemporary investigation of the sequence remained limited and fragmented. The response would be very different when the Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake rocked the central United States toward the end of the 19th century. Although still too early to be recorded on seismometers, the Charleston earthquake was investigated in a manner that the present-day earth scientist would consider modern. Within the United States, the New Madrid sequence and the Charleston earthquake form a pair of 19th-century bookends. On the shelf in between these milestone events was the emergence of seismology as a modern science—developments that, for the most part, took place outside of the United States. The field would not mature fully during the span of this single century, of course. Elastic rebound theory, the fundamental tenet that has lent its name to this book, would not appear as a fully realized theory until shortly after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Plate tectonics, which at long last explained the engine behind the earthquake machine, would arrive on the scene later still. But it was during the 19th century that scientists first began to build the very foundations of the field. As earlier chapters have discussed, intelligent speculations about earthquakes date back at least as far as Aristotle’s time; intelligent, thorough observations of earthquakes date back to the mid-18th century, in particular the efforts sparked by the Year of the Earthquakes in England (1750) and the Lisbon earthquake five years later.

Keywords:   cataloging, elastic rebound, isoseismal maps, mechanics, plate tectonics, seismic waves, triangulation

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