Earthquakes along the passive margin of eastern Canada

Seth Stein*, Norman H. Sleep, Robert J. Geller, Shi‐Chen ‐C Wang, Glenn C. Kroeger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


An active seismic zone extends along the passive margin of eastern North America from Baffin Island to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. We have determined the focal mechanisms of several of the earthquakes, including the 1933 Ms 7.3 Baffin Bay earthquake, the largest event ever recorded along the eastern North American margin. The mechanisms show thrust faulting for earthquakes seaward of the 1000 m contour, and primarily normal faulting for earthquakes landward. We propose that these earthquakes are induced by the removal of the Pleistocene glacial loads which extended onto the continental shelf. The deglaciation reactivated basement faults remaining from rifting associated with the opening of the Labrador Sea. Baffin Bay and the Atlantic. A simple flexure calculation yields horizontal extension (normal faulting) in the previously glaciated region, and horizontal compression (thrust faulting) farther seaward, in good general agreement with the observed earthquake mechanisms. The magnitude of the stresses, 100 to 150 bars, is sufficient to reactivate preexisting basement faults. Large passive margin earthquakes may occur as far south along the coast as glaciation extended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)537-540
Number of pages4
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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