Hazards

Natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes, and floods endanger public health and safety, threaten critical infrastructure, and cost our economy billions of dollars each year. Geoscientists study these hazards in order to provide warnings to populations at risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

American Geosciences Institute
U.S. Geological Survey
American Geosciences Institute

Latest News

Hazards fire houses
(2017-04-10)
March 27, 2017 The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a workshop on long-term approaches for wildfire management on March 27. The workshop looked at the costs of wildfires, not only in terms of the financial costs of fire suppression and rehabilitation of property and...
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...
landslide
(2017-04-10)
March 22, 2017 Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the bipartisan National Landslide Preparation Act (S.698) on March 22. The bill directs the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to establish a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program. This program would identify and...
Paricutín Volcano
(2017-03-06)
February 8, 2017 Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced a bill to establish a National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System (S.346) on February 8. Lava flows, toxic gasses, mudslides, and large ash plumes from volcanoes pose a significant...
IES Oceans Glyph
(2017-02-07)
January 10, 2017 Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1) introduced the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act (H.R. 312) on January 10. This bill directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to strengthen tsunami research, detection, forecasting, warning, and mitigation programs...
An earthquake-safe 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...
Galaxy NGC 3310
(2016-12-01)
November 4, 2016 NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hosted an asteroid emergency planning exercise on October 25 in El Segundo, California. The exercise centered on a hypothetical event, in which an asteroid discovered in 2016 would hit southern California in 2020.  The...
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

CI_CaseStudy_2017_1_VolcanicLandslides_thumb.JPG

More than just volcanic eruptions Volcanic eruptions are a serious hazard. But at many stratovolcanoes in Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and Alaska, landslides and debris flows can be just as dangerous. Some of these - especially volcanic mudflows (lahars) - are directly triggered by...

Tornado funnel. Image Credit: NOAA

Defining the Problem Following a tornado, first responders need maps of the width and location (swath) of the damage area. The biggest challenge when integrating remote sensing into disaster response is timeliness. To be most useful, remote sensing imagery maps must reach emergency management...

Pre-Ike (left) and post-Ike (right) ASTER imagery of Galveston Island, the Bolívar Peninsula, and the mainland in August 2006. Healthy (red) and dead (brown) vegetation shows storm surge inundation effects. Image Credit: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Obsevatory

Defining the Problem Hurricanes bring not only intense rainfall, but also high winds and flooding. This flooding is powered by the hurricane storm surge: a rise in coastal sea level caused by lowered barometric pressure and by wind blowing the ocean onto the land. The result is that waves and...

Fig. 1. A 1995 landslide in Overland Park, Kansas, destroyed two homes and damaged four lots. Credit: Kansas Geological Survey

Defining the Problem Damaging landslides occur even in vertically challenged” states like Kansas (Fig. 1). It is important to be able to delineate landslide hazard areas in order to develop appropriate land-use plans. In Leavenworth County, Kansas, geologic maps combined with maps of landslide...

Fig. 1. Sinkholes in collapsed parking area, Frederick, MD. Sinkholes form in carbonate areas as the dissolving and weakening of bedrock cause it to collapse. Credit: D.K. Brezinksi

Defining the Problem Sinkholes, which abound in the Frederick Valley in west-central Maryland, impact urban growth and development (Fig. 1). Sinkholes form in carbonate areas as the dissolving and weakening of bedrock cause it to collapse. Activities, such as quarrying, which alter surface...

Fig.1. Home in Oakland, CA, destroyed by landslides in 1958. Source: J. Coe, USGS

Defining the Problem The geologic history of the Oakland, California, area has produced steep hillsides and unstable rock and soil that generate damaging landslides during severe storms and wet winters (Fig. 1 and 2). During the 1997-98 rainy-season, the two-county area surrounding Oakland...

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)1. Soft soils amplify the motion of earthquake waves, producing greater ground shaking and increasing the stresses on structures. Loose, wet,...

Fig. 1. Homeowners and emergency managers are still coping with debris flows and the aftermath of the 2002 Missionary Ridge wildfire near Durango, CO. Credit: P. Winkworth

Defining the Problem Wildfires, such as the Missionary Ridge fire that burned for more than a month in 2002 near Durango, Colorado (Fig. 1), and their aftermath can cause subsequent property and environmental damage. Many areas denuded by the fire are now susceptible to rapid erosion during...

Fig. 1. Although Glacier Peak normally can not be seen from any urban areas, this active volcano periodically erupts in an explosive catastrophic manner that could affect the lower part of the populated Skagit River Valley. Credit: D. Mullineaux, USGS

Defining the Problem Active volcanoes, such as Glacier Peak (Fig. 1), pose a variety of potential hazards. Like Mount Rainier (Fig. 2) and Mount St. Helens, the history of Glacier Peak includes explosive eruptions and lahars. Eruptions, earthquakes, or precipitation can trigger landslides that...

Fig. 3. U.S. Highway 85 crossing the Little Missouri River. Seventy-five percent of the rocks in this photograph, all of those in the foreground and the rocks along the north valley wall in the background have slid and are out of place. Credit: E. Murphy

Defining the Problem U.S Highway 85 and ND Highway 22, along with numerous county roads, buildings, pipelines, and power lines, have been constructed over existing landslides in the Little Missouri Badlands of western North Dakota. Since 1980, the repair and rerouting of damaged sections of...

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. A major earthquake along the Denali Fault where the pipeline crosses the Delta River in the rugged Alaska Range, could cause a potentially...

Research Database Publications

Cover of CAGS_SR_225; Source: California Geological Survey
2012, California Geological Survey (CGS)
On July 12, 2008 remnant moisture from hurricane Bertha moved from the Gulf of Mexico across the southwestern United States bringing tropical moisture to the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Rainfall intensities reportedly as high as 97 mm/hr (3.8 in/hr) occurred for a period of 39 minutes on the Oak Creek...
Cover of RI_29_12; Source: Kentucky Geological Survey
2015, Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS)
In eastern Kentucky, landslides occur in colluvial soils or at the colluvium-bedrock contact, and are commonly triggered by heavy rainfall. These slides occur particularly where steep slopes and weak rocks combine with various methods of slope modification. Landslides can damage roadways,...
Cover for SR226; Source: California Geological Survey
2014, California Geological Survey (CGS)
Between November, 2007 and May, 2008, the California Department of Public Health-Indoor Radon Program (CDPH-Indoor Radon Program) conducted an indoor-radon survey of 478 homes in San Mateo County using short-term radon detectors. Radon survey test results range from 0.1 picocuries per liter (pCi/L...
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2015, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
Annual report of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute that covers NCKRI program and project updates for 2013-2014 and information about sponsored projects.
Cover of RI_34_12; Source: Kentucky Geological Survey
2015, Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS)
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet maintenance cost data for landslides and rockfalls were associated with geology along Kentucky roadways in a three-phase study. Work-order costs collected over 7 yr were divided into 1-mi segments, and the segment midpoints were assigned to geologic units in order to...
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2009, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
Annual report of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute that covers NCKRI program and project updates for 2007-2008 and information about sponsored projects.
Cover of mp-15-5_invited_paper; Source: Utah Geological Survey
2015, Utah Geological Survey (UGS)
Over the past 25 years, luminescence dating has become a key tool for dating sediments of interest in paleoseismic research. The data obtained from luminescence dating has been used to determine timing of fault displacement, calculate slip rates, and estimate earthquake recurrence intervals. The...
Cover of fs2016-3044; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
A wildfire’s devastation of forest and rangeland seldom ends when the last embers die. In the western United States, rain on a scorched mountainside can turn ash into mudslides. Debris flows unleashed by rainstorms can put nearby homes into harm’s way and send people scrambling for safety. The...
Cover for USGS FS 2014-3018 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The magnitude 9.2 Great Alaska Earthquake that struck south-central Alaska at 5:36 p.m. on Friday, March 27, 1964, is the largest recorded earthquake in U.S. history and the second-largest earthquake recorded with modern instruments. The earthquake was felt throughout most of mainland Alaska, as...
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...