Earthquakes

PDF versionPDF version

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
(2018-02-06)
January 30, 2018 On January 30, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a full committee hearing to address the role of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in preparing for and responding to...
IES Soils Glyph
(2018-01-04)
December 13, 2017 At an executive session on December 13, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Reauthorization Act of 2018 (S.2200) and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)...
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...
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...

Case Studies & Factsheets

Cover of AGI Case Study 2018-001-Geologic Mapping and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Overview The 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which starts at Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope, can carry 2 million barrels of oil per day south to the port of Valdez for export, equal to roughly 10% of the daily consumption in the United States in 20171. The pipeline crosses the Denali...

CI_Factsheet_2018_1_NewMadrid_180226_thumb.JPG

Earthquakes in the New Madrid Fault Zone The New Madrid fault zone (NMFZ) is a long-established weakness in the Earth’s crust in the central and eastern US where earthquakes have occurred for hundreds of millions of years. In 1811-1812, three large earthquakes (up to magnitude 7.5) caused severe...

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...

GOLI Online Courses

GOLI Course: Communicating Cascadia's Earthquake Risk. Image Credit: FEMA / Photo by Mustafa Lazkani
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

Geoscience research is at the forefront of characterizing the earthquake risks associated with the Cascadia subduction zone in the Pacific Northwest. This course covers the science and its implications for policy decisions and resiliency efforts.

GOLI Course: State Responses to Induced Earthquakes. Image courtesy of Jerry Boak.
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

The surge in recent years of earthquake activity associated with some oil and gas operations, most notably in Oklahoma, has spurred a range of actions and responses from state geoscientists and regulators. States have taken measures to monitor these earthquakes and moderate the activities that...

GOLI Course: Induced Seismicity in the Mid-Continent; Image credit: USGS
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course provides information about induced seismic activity in the United States, specifically in the mid-continent. It includes information on mitigation planning, the state of seismic monitoring at the state level, and the challenges in communicating the science of the issue to the public...

Research Database Publications

Living with Unstable Ground, AGI
2009, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Most of us take the stability of the ground for granted. However, many ongoing natural processes and human activities, and occasionally complex combinations of both, displace the ground. Whether ground displacements are large and catastrophic or small and slow, their cumulative impact during the...
Cover of factsheet; Image credit: Hazards Caucus Alliance
2014, Hazards Caucus Alliance (HCA)
Earthquakes are one of the costliest natural hazards facing the United States. Major earthquakes occur infrequently but can be devastating, especially when they occur in densely populated areas. Over the last hundred years, earthquake damages in the United States totaled more than $50 billion, with...
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 for USGS FS 2014-3120 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Volcanic eruptions happen in the State of California about as frequently as the largest earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault Zone. At least 10 eruptions have taken place in California in the past 1,000 years—most recently at Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park (1914 to 1917) in the...
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 ofr20161044; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earthquake Hazards and Landslide Hazards Programs are developing plans to add quantitative hazard assessments of earthquake-triggered landsliding and liquefaction to existing real-time earthquake products (ShakeMap, ShakeCast, PAGER) using open and readily...
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
2004, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Geologic mapping provides the data foundation that makes soil mapping and earthquake simulations possible. This approach also can be used to predict damage in areas where the historical record indicates a risk of potential earthquakes.
Cover of mp-15-5_usgs_workshop; Source: Utah Geological Survey
2015, Utah Geological Survey (UGS)
The goal of this workshop was to gather representatives from Intermountain West (IMW) states to present their top five faults of concern and to create strategies to prioritize and fund active fault studies. The workshop focused on states outside Utah and Nevada, but workshop participation was open...
Cover of PP1661e; Source: USGS
2007, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The delta front of the Duwamish River valley near Elliott Bay and Harbor Island is founded on young Holocene deposits shaped by sea-level rise, episodic volcanism, and seismicity. These river-mouth deposits are highly susceptible to seismic soil liquefaction and are potentially prone to submarine...
Cover for S-94-2 ; Source: Idaho Geological Survey
1994, Idaho Geological Survey (IGS)
Beginning January 30, 1994, a sequence of earthquakes, the largest (Mw 5.9) on February 3, occurred in southeastern Caribou County, Idaho, in the Webster Range near Draney Peak. The purpose of this report is to summarize the preliminary information that the Idaho Geological Survey has received from...