Earthquakes

Since 1900, earthquakes in the United States have resulted in over 1100 deaths and direct damages totaling more than $50 billion. While the West Coast and Alaska have the highest risk, history shows that major earthquakes can also affect the Central and Eastern United States.

Basics

The Peru earthquake of May 31, 1970 caused slumping and cracking of this paved road. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Most earthquakes are caused by the sudden release of built-up stress along faults, fractures in the Earth’s crust where large blocks of crustal rock move against one another. An earthquake’s size can be measured by the amount of energy released by that movement. While scientists can't predict earthquakes, they are developing earthquake early warning systems that can provide seconds to minutes of warning when an earthquake occurs.  Scientists can also estimate the likelihood of future quakes and use that information to design safer buildings and roads.   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Latest News

Cracked road from earthquake
(2017-09-29)
September 6, 2017 On September 6, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill (S.1768) to permanently reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). First authorized in 1977, NEHRP has led to significant improvements in earthquake research and infrastructure...
Earth
(2017-05-18)
April 6, 2017 The Hazards Caucus Alliance, a network that supports the Congressional Hazards Caucus, hosted a briefing on April 6 about how geologic and hazards mapping and monitoring are used to prepare and protect communities from natural hazards. The Hazards Caucus provides congressional staff...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2017-04-10)
March 27, 2017 The Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act (H.R.654) moved a step closer to becoming law when the bill passed the House on March 27. Representative Pete DeFazio (D-OR-4) introduced H.R.654 on January 24. The bill would establish an earthquake and tsunami inter-agency task...
An earthquake-resistant pipeline crossing the San Andreas Fault at Cholame, California. Image Copyright © Michael Collier http://www.earthscienceworld.org/images
(2016-12-05)
On Thursday and Friday, December 1-2, the National Academies' Roundtable on Unconventional Hydrocarbons held a workshop on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Development: Legacy Issues, Induced Seismicity, and Innovations in Managing Risk. The meeting brought together experts from industry, academia, state...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2016-11-29)
November 10, 2016 On November 10, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) hosted a panel discussion on the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) and its potential for large scale fault rupture. Research from a number of academic institutions has suggested that such a rupture is capable of producing a...
Screenshot of video update on seismic activity in Kansas.
(2016-11-17)
We have a brand new update on last year's webinar, Induced Seismicity in the Midcontinent. One of our speakers, Rex Buchanan, former State Geologist of Kansas, has returned to provide us with an update on seismic activity in Kansas. You can watch the short video on YouTube here: http://bit.ly/...
Screenshot of a graphic showing the Cascadia Subduction Zone
(2016-11-11)
On Thursday November 10, The National Academies' Board on Earth Science and Resources and the Committee on Seismology and Geodynamics held a joint meeting on The Cascadia Subduction Zone: Science, Impacts, and Response. The meeting provided a forum for the discussion of progress and future...
Map of earthquake probabilities across the U.S. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
(2016-10-19)
#MapOfTheDay! Today the Critical Issues Program (@AGI_GeoIssues) shared a map of earthquake probabilities across the United States from the U.S. Geological Survey (@USGS), which you can find at http://bit.ly/1LBgCbE. For more information on earthquakes, check out our Earthquake Basics and register...
Interactive map of California fault activity. Image Credit: California Geological Survey
(2016-09-27)
#MapOfTheDay! Today the Critical Issues Program (@AGI_GeoIssues) shared an interactive map of fault activity in California from the California Geological Survey, which you can find at http://bit.ly/1MM9qFS. If you're interested in learning more about faults and earthquakes in California, you can...
Industrial waste arrives at a wastewater disposal facility near Platteville, CO. The waste will be treated and then injected into deep underground storage wells. Image Credit: Bill Ellsworth, USGS.
(2016-09-16)
The September 3rd earthquake in Pawnee, Oklahoma, renewed national discussion on the link between earthquakes and human activity. "Induced seismicity," as human-caused earthquakes are referred to in the field, has been linked to the injection of industrial wastewater into disposal wells deep...

Case Studies & Factsheets

Fig. 1. Densely built urban areas on soft soils are prone to earthquake damage. Geologic maps provide vital information on the extent of these soils. Credit: N.J. Department of Environmental Protection

Defining the Problem The density and value of its buildings place New Jersey tenth among all states for potential economic loss from earthquakes (Fig. 1) [as of 2005]1. Soft soils amplify the motion of earthquake waves, producing greater ground shaking and increasing the stresses on structures....

Fig. 3. View of part of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at the Denali Fault showing major design features. Fault movement and intense ground shaking were accommodated by zigzagging the pipeline and leaving it free to slide. Credit: M. Metz, Anchorage

Defining the Problem The 800-mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline can carry 2 million barrels of oil per day equal to 17% of the nation’s daily consumption [these data come from the early 2000s; crude oil consumption in 2017 is only slightly lower]. A major earthquake along the Denali Fault where the...

Research Database Publications

Cover for USGS FS 2014-3092 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake interrupted several decades of seismic tranquility in the San Francisco Bay Area. It caused damage throughout the region and was a wakeup call to prepare for potentially even more damaging future quakes. Since 1989, the work of the U.S. Geological Survey and many...
Cover of OFR-14-5 ; Source: Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology
2014, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology (NBMG)
This report estimates losses from earthquakes that could occur near 38 Nevada communities, including all county seats and major population centers. The primary audiences for this report are emergency managers, emergency responders, and the local and state government officials responsible for action...
Cover for AASG Induced Seismicity Factsheet; Source: Association of American State Geologists
2015, Association of American State Geologists (AASG)
Earthquake activity has increased recently in parts of the U.S. midcontinent. Some of that increase has been associated with human activity, rather than occurring naturally. Earthquakes associated with human activities are referred to as induced or triggered (as opposed to natural) seismicity. They...
Cover of SP2013-1 ; Source: Oklahoma Geological Survey
2013, Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS)
Earthquake activity within Oklahoma has increased more than an order of magnitude since late 2009. This rate increase is significant and unprecedented with dramatic implications for the seismic hazard throughout Oklahoma. The seismicity observed in this time period is primarily concentrated within...
Cover of 91-5; Source: Maine Geological Survey
1991, Maine Geological Survey (MGS)
Earthquake monitoring in Maine since 1975 by the ten-station Weston Observatory network indicates a high concentration of earthquakes between the towns of Milo and Dover-Foxcroft. This regional network is capable of detecting events having magnitudes greater than 2.0 with a nominal location...
Cover of ofr20161071; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The magnitude 4.0 earthquake that occurred on October 16, 2012, near Hollis Center and Waterboro in southwestern Maine surprised and startled local residents but caused only minor damage. A two-person U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team was sent to Maine to conduct an intensity survey and document...
Cover of OFR2015-1 ; Source: Oklahoma Geological Survey
2015, Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS)
The Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) located 5,417 earthquakes during 2014, throughout 40 counties in Oklahoma (Figure 1); this is the greatest number of earthquakes that have occurred in a single year in Oklahoma’s recorded seismic history. Of the earthquakes reported in 2014, 967 were reported as...
Sevicke Jones Building in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, on 22 February 2011.
2011, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
In the aftermath of the devastating magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, attention quickly turned away from a much smaller, but also highly destructive earthquake that struck the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, just a few weeks earlier, on Feb...
Cover of mp-15-5; Source: Utah Geological Survey
2015, Utah Geological Survey (UGS)
This proceedings volume documents the results of the third Basin and Range Province Seismic Hazards Summit (BRPSHSIII) convened by the Utah Geological Survey and Western States Seismic Policy Council in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 12–17, 2015. The purpose of BRPSHSIII was to bring together...
Cover of HAZUS Annualized Earthquake Loss Estimation report; Image source: California Geological Survey
2011, California Geological Survey (CGS)
Comprehensive estimation of the scale and extent of damage, social disruption, and economic losses due to potential earthquakes provides useful information for local and state officials in developing earthquake hazard mitigation strategies and preparing emergency response and recovery plans. ...