Link #101: Reelfoot Lake Was Formed by an Earthquake!



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Link #101: Reelfoot Lake Was Formed by an Earthquake!

Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee. Image credit: Jeremy Atherton, 2001, (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Most people think that land doesn’t move. However, land does move on various levels. First, the whole planet is revolving around the Sun. Second, the planet is always rotating on its axis. And third, even the continents are not stationary because they rest on tectonic plates that are always moving against or away from each other.

It’s just that these movements are so slow or our perspective so small that we can’t feel this movement directly. However, sometimes these movements make themselves visible through events like earthquakes.

In our last post, we showed how the 2011 earthquake in the pacific caused Japan to shift 8 feet towards North America. Another example of small movements becoming openly recognisable is Reelfoot Lake which was formed because of an earthquake too!

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When and How Was Reelfoot Lake Formed?

Reelfoot Rift by USGS, PD image.

Reelfoot Lake was formed because of a series of earthquakes that struck the region in the 19th century. It is located over a region that is known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone or the New Madrid Fault Line. The reason why the region has this name is that it is located over an intraplate fault line.

An intraplate fault line is a weakness in a region within a tectonic plate. In this case, it means that at the location, deep down, there is a rift known as the Reelfoot Rift. Reelfoot Lake is located on the edge of this rift.

Reelfoot Lake was formed because of a series of massive earthquakes that occurred in the early 19th century. These earthquakes occurred over a period spanning seven weeks at the end of 1811 and beginning of 1812. These earthquakes are collectively called the New Madrid Earthquakes.

The final earthquake of this series ended up creating Reelfoot Lake by diverting existing river channels and reducing the height of the land in the region. As land rose due to the earthquakes in the regions around Reelfoot Lake and the base of the lake sank, the water collected there forming the lake.

What Were Nightriders and Why Are They Associated With Reelfoot Lake?

Portrait of Tennessee Governor Malcolm R. Patterson (1861–1935). Patterson was praised for quelling the Night Riders of Reelfoot Lake uprising in 1908. By Knoxville artist C. Mortimer Thompson, PD image.

The term Nightriders sounds cool, but they were supposedly criminals associated with Reelfoot Lake. They operated in the region at the beginning of the 20th century; roughly a century after Reelfoot Lake was formed. The Nightriders were basically revolutionaries who chose violent methods of seeking justice.

The Nightriders came from a community that depended on Reelfoot Lake for its income. This means that the people here fished professionally in the lake. The reason why the Nightriders were formed by this community is that their access to Reelfoot Lake was taken away.

A number of private investors decided to buy up the land surrounding Reelfoot Lake so that they could claim ownership over the lake as well. They bought land all around the coast of the lake and stopped others from using it. It was this that caused the formation of the Nightriders. Later on, Reelfoot Lake was declared to be Public Domain and everyone was given equal access.

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