Seismic hazard of the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault in Haiti inferred from palaeoseismology

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Nature Geoscience
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The Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault zone is recognized as one of the primary plate-bounding fault systems in Haiti1, 2. The strike-slip fault runs adjacent to the city of Port-au-Prince and was initially thought to be the source of the 12 January 2010, Mw7.0 earthquake. Haiti experienced significant earthquakes in 1751 and 1770 (refs 3, 4, 5), but the role of the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault zone in these earthquakes is poorly known. We use satellite imagery, aerial photography, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and field investigations to document Quaternary activity on the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault. We report late Quaternary, left-lateral offsets of up to 160m, and a set of small offsets ranging from 1.3 to 3.3m that we associate with one of the eighteenth century earthquakes. The size of the small offsets implies that the historical earthquake was larger than Mw7.0, but probably smaller than Mw7.6. We found no significant surface rupture associated with the 2010 earthquake. The lack of surface rupture, coupled with other seismologic, geologic and geodetic observations6, 7, suggests that little, if any, accumulated strain was released on the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault in the 2010 earthquake. These results confirm that the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault remains a significant seismic hazard.

At a glance


  1. Tectonic setting of the 12 January 2010 Haiti earthquake.
    Figure 1: Tectonic setting of the 12 January 2010 Haiti earthquake.

    Hispaniola with the two major left-lateral plate-boundary, left-lateral strike-slip faults, the SFZ and the EPGFZ shown in red, which bound the Gonave microplate between the North American and Caribbean plates1, 2. Thrust fault systems are black lines with teeth on upthrown side. NHFZ=North Hispaniola fault zone. MF=Muertos fault. Purple star= epicentre of the 12 January 2010 earthquake22; white stars= estimated epicentres of historical large earthquakes in Haiti3, 4, 5. PaP=Port-au-Prince; CH=Cap Hatien. The inset shows the main elements of the Caribbean plate boundaries.

  2. EPGFZ in southern Haiti.
    Figure 2: EPGFZ in southern Haiti.

    a, Onshore EPGFZ (red lines) from satellite imagery, aerial photography, LIDAR and field observations. The base map is from Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data. D=Dumay, L=Leogane, PaP=Port-au-Prince,PR=Port Royal. Star= epicentre of the 12 January 2010 earthquake22. Pink circles= aftershocks ≥Mw4 from the Advanced National Seismic System23; large circles=Mw6–6.9, intermediate circles=Mw5–5.9 and small circles=Mw4–4.9. b, Onshore Quaternary traces of the eastern EPGFZ. The fault section boundaries (black vertical bars) are defined by geomorphic changes (Supplementary Discussion S2). Blue rectangle=modelled Leogane fault slip patch at depth6. C=Carrefour, D=Dumay, L=Leogane, PaP=Port-au-Prince, PR=Port Royal, PG=Petit Goave, PV=Petionville. The blue areas are lakes: EM=Etang Miragoane, ES=Etang Sumatre. TR=Tapion ridge.

  3. Surface fractures along the EPGFZ near Port Royal.
    Figure 3: Surface fractures along the EPGFZ near Port Royal.

    a, Map showing onshore fractures (red line) along the fault trace. Black circles= global positioning system points along the fracture zone. The base map is a post-earthquake aerial photo acquired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The red arrow marks the continuation of the fault west of the end of the fractures. b, Aerial view looking northwestward towards the EPGFZ near Port Royal. The EPGFZ is along the bench near the base of the prominent ridge. c, Fractures near coastline. View northeast. Note the right-stepping en echelon extensional fractures, typical of left-lateral slip. This pattern is not consistent, and we found no left-laterally offset features. The dominant mode of slip on 2010 fractures is down-to-the-south extension.

  4. Locations of small, left-lateral offsets along the Momance section of the EPGFZ.
    Figure 4: Locations of small, left-lateral offsets along the Momance section of the EPGFZ.

    a, Locations of nine small offsets observed in the Momance valley. The base map is from SRTM data. The fault trace is shown by the red line. b, Hillshade from LIDAR data showing the area of the topographic survey near Jean–Jean (white rectangle). The fault scarp is between the two red arrows. LIDAR data courtesy of the World Bank, ImageCat and Rochester Institute of Technology Haiti response team; data are freely available at c, Blow-up of the LIDAR image showing the footprint of the survey (white dashes). d, Aerial view southward towards the fault scarp (red arrows) near Jean–Jean. The surveyed site is indicated by the white dashes. Small stream offsets are not visible in the aerial photograph because of vegetation.

  5. Detailed topographic survey of small stream offsets at the Jean-Jean site.
    Figure 5: Detailed topographic survey of small stream offsets at the Jean–Jean site.

    a, Digital elevation model from total station survey, 0.5m contours. Green and brown represent higher and lower elevations, respectively. The red lines are fault traces. PR=pressure ridge. The arrows mark offsets: purple and white arrows for channel 1 across the southern and northern traces, respectively; short black arrows for channel 2. b, Photograph of channel 1 offset, view eastward. The black dashes mark the thalweg; the red dashes show the southern fault trace. PR=pressure ridge. c, Profile XX′ across the scarp associated with the northern fault trace. The scarp is eroded back from the fault trace, and is therefore south of the fault.


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Author information


  1. US Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, MS 977, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA

    • C. S. Prentice
  2. University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Austin, Texas 78758, USA

    • P. Mann
  3. US Geological Survey, MS 966, Box 25046, Denver, Colorado 80225, USA

    • A. J. Crone,
    • R. D. Gold &
    • R. W. Briggs
  4. US Geological Survey, 525 S. Wilson Avenue, Pasadena, California 91106, USA

    • K. W. Hudnut
  5. State of Alaska, Geological and Geophysical Surveys, 3354 College Road, Fairbanks, Alaska 99709, USA

    • R. D. Koehler
  6. Bureau des Mines et de l’Energie, Delmas 19, Rue Nina 14, Box 2174, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

    • P. Jean


C.S.P. was responsible for writing the manuscript and generating most of the figures, with input from all authors. R.D.G. reduced the survey data collected by C.S.P. and A.J.C. to produce the map that appears in Fig. 5, and contributed substantially to Fig. 4b,c. C.S.P., R.D.G. and A.J.C. contributed to interpretation of survey data. C.S.P., R.D.G. and K.W.H. contributed text and figures to the Supplementary Information, which was coordinated by C.S.P. All authors collected data in the field and contributed to data analysis and synthesis.

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