Earthquakes

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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...
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...

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...

GOLI Online Courses

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...

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...

Research Database Publications

Cover of RI_28_12; Source: Kentucky Geological Survey
2015, Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS)
An Mw-7.9 earthquake occurred in Wenchuan, China, in 2008, along the Longmenshan Fault, which is located on the western border of the South China stable continental region. A detailed comparison of the Wenchuan ground-motion attenuation relationships with the relationships for the central and...
Cover of FS2015-3009; Source: USGS
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
With innovations, fresh data, and lessons learned from recent earthquakes, scientists have developed a new earthquake forecast model for California, a region under constant threat from potentially damaging events. The new model, referred to as the third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture...
Cover for S-94-4 ; Source: Idaho Geological Survey
1994, Idaho Geological Survey (IGS)
This report summarizes the preliminary information that the Idaho Geological Survey has received from agencies investigating the earthquake sequence and to evaluate these data in relation to seismicity and seismotectonis of the state.
Cover of mp-15-5_field_trip; Source: Utah Geological Survey
2015, Utah Geological Survey (UGS)
Salt Lake City lies within the Intermountain Seismic Belt, along the trace of the middle part of the most continuous, active normal fault in the conterminous United States––the Wasatch fault zone (WFZ) (figure 1). On the west side of the city, the West Valley fault zone (WVFZ) forms an antithetic...
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. ...
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 PP1500KR; Source: USGS
2000, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
This report--the second of two volumes--represents an ongoing effort by the U.S. Geological Survey to transfer accurate Earth science information about earthquake hazards along Utah's Wasatch Front to researchers, public officials, design professionals, land-use planners, and emergency managers in...
Cover of OFR2014-05; Source: Wyoming State Geological Survey
2014, Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS)
Public and scientific interest in the potential for induced seismicity in portions of the United States has been growing over the last few years. In response, the Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS) has conducted a review of existing data to quantify the potential relationship between...
Cover of OFR2015-5 ; Source: Oklahoma Geological Survey
2015, Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS)
This report is an update for an ongoing research effort to compile Oklahoma’s Class II underground injection control (UIC) well data by geologic zone of completion on annual-, state-, and county- scales. Because most previous studies indicate that saltwater disposal (SWD) wells are of greater...