1887 Sonora earthquake

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1887 Sonora earthquake
Mexico relief location map.jpg
UTC  time1887-05-03
Local date3 May 1887 (1887-05-03)
Magnitude7.6 Mw [1]
Depth80 km (50 mi)
Epicenter 31°04′N109°07′W / 31.07°N 109.12°W / 31.07; -109.12 Coordinates: 31°04′N109°07′W / 31.07°N 109.12°W / 31.07; -109.12
Type Dip-slip
Areas affected Mexico
United States

The 1887 Sonora earthquake occurred at 22:13 UCT on 3 May in the Teras mountain range of northwestern Mexico. It was widely felt, with some damage being recorded up to 200 kilometres (120 mi) from the epicenter in both Mexico and the United States. The earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 7.6 and caused 42 casualties in the town of Bavispe and 51 overall. [2] It was the only historical earthquake to cause considerable damage in Arizona. [3] The 1887 Tombstone Arizona newspapers mentioned lesser quakes (aftershocks) on August 27, 1887, and November 11, 1887.

Mexico country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the eleventh most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

The epicenter, epicentre or epicentrum in seismology is the point on the Earth's surface directly above a hypocenter or focus, the point where an earthquake or an underground explosion originates.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.


Tectonic setting

The earthquake was located near the southern end of the extensional Basin and Range Province. The western margin of the Sierra Madre Occidental plateau is formed by a series of west-dipping normal faults, over a distance of at least 300 kilometres (190 mi). The earthquake occurred within this zone. [4]

Basin and Range Province geologic province extending through much of the western United States and Mexico

The Basin and Range Province is a vast physiographic region covering much of the inland Western United States and northwestern Mexico. It is defined by unique basin and range topography, characterized by abrupt changes in elevation, alternating between narrow faulted mountain chains and flat arid valleys or basins. The physiography of the province is the result of tectonic extension that began around 17 million years ago in the early Miocene epoch.

Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range

The Sierra Madre Occidental is a major mountain range system of the North American Cordillera, that runs northwest–southeast through northwestern and western Mexico, and along the Gulf of California. The Sierra Madre is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges (cordillera) that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western 'backbone' of North America, Central America, South America and West Antarctica.


Sketch by Dr. George Goodfellow of the 1887 Sonora earthquake fault zone based on several weeks of field study. The U.S./Arizona border is shown at top. 1887 Sonora earthquake fault map.png
Sketch by Dr. George Goodfellow of the 1887 Sonora earthquake fault zone based on several weeks of field study. The U.S./Arizona border is shown at top.

Towns near the epicenter suffered significant damage, particularly in Bavispe, where most houses were destroyed and 42 of the town's 700 inhabitants were killed. Houses of adobe construction were also destroyed in Tepic and Moctezuma. The houses were roofed with heavy log rafters that were untied to the adobe walls and fell in when the walls collapsed. [5] The earthquake triggered many rockfalls and landslides and caused ground fissures. Moderate to severe damage occurred in northeastern Sonora, northwestern Chihuahua, southwestern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona and the westernmost part of Texas. [1]

Adobe Building material made from earth and organic materials

Adobe is a building material made from earth and organic materials. Adobe is Spanish for mudbrick, but in some English-speaking regions of Spanish heritage, the term is used to refer to any kind of earth construction. Most adobe buildings are similar in appearance to cob and rammed earth buildings. Adobe is among the earliest building materials, and is used throughout the world.

Tepic City in Nayarit, Mexico

Tepic is the capital and largest city of the western Mexican state of Nayarit.

Moctezuma, Sonora in Sonora State, Mexico

Moctezuma is a municipio (municipality) of the Mexican state of Sonora, located in the state's central region. It is also the name of its largest settlement and cabecera municipal.


The earthquake was associated with a surface rupture consisting of three segments with a combined length of 101.8 km, the longest normal fault rupture recorded for an earthquake in historic times. [6] The three faults that ruptured were the Pitáycachi, Teras, and Otates faults from north to south. [7] The magnitude of the event has been estimated as 7.6 on the moment magnitude scale from an analysis of an isoseismal map drawn up for this event, following a re-evaluation of earlier estimates of felt intensity. [1]

Surface rupture

Surface rupture is the visible offset of the ground surface when an earthquake rupture along a fault affects the Earth's surface. Surface rupture is opposed by buried rupture, where there is no displacement at ground level. This is a major risk to any structure that is built across a fault zone that may be active, in addition to any risk from ground shaking. Surface rupture entails vertical or horizontal movement, on either side of a fault which has ruptured. Surface rupture can affect large areas of land.

The moment magnitude scale is a measure of n earthquake's magnitude based on its seismic moment, expressed in terms of the familiar magnitudes of the original "Richter" magnitude scale.

Isoseismal map

In seismology, an isoseismal map is used to show lines of equal felt seismic intensity, generally measured on the Modified Mercalli scale. Such maps help to identify earthquake epicenters, particularly where no instrumental records exist, such as for historical earthquakes. They also contain important information on ground conditions at particular locations, the underlying geology, radiation pattern of the seismic waves and the response of different types of buildings. They form an important part of the macroseismic approach, i.e. that part of seismology dealing with non-instrumental data. The shape and size of the isoseismal regions can be used to help determine the magnitude, focal depth and focal mechanism of an earthquake.

There was a prolonged sequence of aftershocks that are interpreted to continue to the present. Particularly large aftershocks (about magnitude 5) occurred on 26 May 1907, 17 May 1913 and 18 and 19 December 1923. [8]

Assistance and reporting

The earthquake destroyed most of the adobe houses in Bavispe and killed 42 of the town's 700 residents; [5] [9] Dr. George E. Goodfellow in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, loaded his wagon with medical supplies and rode 140 kilometres (87 mi) to aid survivors. The townspeople named him El Doctor Santo (The Holy Doctor), and in recognition of his humanitarian contributions, Mexican President Porfirio Diaz presented him with a silver medal that had belonged to Emperor Maximilian and a horse named El Rosillo. [10] Goodfellow noted that it was very difficult to pin down the time of the earthquake due to the absence of time pieces or a nearby railroad, and the primitive living standards of the area's residents. [11]

George E. Goodfellow Authority on abdominal gunshot wounds in the American Old West.

George Emory Goodfellow was a physician and naturalist in the 19th-century American Old West who developed a reputation as the United States' foremost expert in treating gunshot wounds. As a medical practitioner in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, Goodfellow treated numerous bullet wounds to both lawmen and outlaws. He recorded several significant medical firsts throughout his career, including performing the first documented laparotomy for treating an abdominal gunshot wound and the first perineal prostatectomy to remove an enlarged prostate. He also pioneered the use of spinal anesthesia and sterile techniques in treating gunshot wounds and is regarded as the first civilian trauma surgeon.

Tombstone, Arizona City in Arizona, United States

Tombstone is a historic city in Cochise County, Arizona, United States, founded in 1879 by prospector Ed Schieffelin in what was then Pima County, Arizona Territory. It became one of the last boomtowns in the American frontier. The town grew significantly into the mid-1880s as the local mines produced $40 to $85 million in silver bullion, the largest productive silver district in Arizona. Its population grew from 100 to around 14,000 in less than seven years. It is best known as the site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and presently draws most of its revenue from tourism.

Arizona Territory US 19th century-early 20th century territory

The Territory of Arizona was a territory of the United States that existed from February 24, 1863 until February 14, 1912, when the remaining extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the state of Arizona. It was created from the western half of the New Mexico Territory during the American Civil War.

Goodfellow returned twice, the second time in July with Tombstone photographer Camillus Sidney Fly to study and record the effects of the earthquake. He covered over 700 miles (1,100 km) on horseback but mostly on foot through the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains recording his observations. [12] [13] His report included the first surface rupture map of an earthquake in North America and photographs of the rupture scarp by C.S. Fly. [14] The United States Geological Service praised his "remarkable and creditable" report, describing it as "systematic, conscientious, and thorough." [14] The earthquake was at the time the “longest recorded normal-fault surface rupture in historic time.” His report was later described as an “outstanding study” and a “pioneering achievement”. [9]

See also

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