Hazards

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

Frequently Asked Questions

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
American Geosciences Institute
U.S. Geological Survey

Latest News

Paricutín Volcano
(2019-04-12)
April 2, 2019 Several disaster aid bills were introduced in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee beginning on February 15 in a continuing effort to mitigate the economic and physical impacts of future natural disasters. Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC-11) has now introduced two...
IES Soils Glyph
(2019-03-07)
February 14, 2019 Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ron Wyden (R-CO), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to improve the research and coordination needed to help communities prepare for and respond to landslides. The bill, called...
Hazards fire houses
(2019-02-06)
January 16, 2019 On January 16, the House passed the Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 268) to provide over $12 billion in emergency funding for communities affected by earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters in 2018. The bill includes amendments that would more than double the...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2019-01-08)
December 11, 2018 On December 11, President Donald Trump signed a bill to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) through fiscal year 2023. NEHRP was created to facilitate research, planning, decision-making, and mitigation efforts related to seismic activity between...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2018-12-05)
November 27, 2018 A bill to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) through fiscal year 2023 passed the House on November 27 and now awaits final approval by the President. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act of 2018 (S. 1768) serves...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2018-11-05)
October 10, 2018 The United States Geological Survey (USGS) held a briefing on October 2 to discuss the ongoing rollout of the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System. The briefing was held in conjunction with the release of a new USGS report titled, “Revised technical implementation plan for...
NASA hurricane satellite image
(2018-11-05)
October 5, 2018 President Donald Trump signed a long-sought reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) into law on October 5, which included a major set of reforms to address the rising costs of natural disasters in the U.S. and help communities improve their pre-disaster...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2018-09-07)
August 3, 2018 On August 3, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-48) introduced the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 6650). First established by Congress in 1977, NEHRP is a program that provides coordination and leadership in monitoring...
Mount St. Helens
(2018-06-08)
May 20, 2018 On May 17, the Senate unanimously passed the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act (S.346), sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill establishes the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System, under the authority of the U.S. Geological Survey (...
Mammatus clouds that are usually associated with thunderstorms.
(2018-05-04)
April 27, 2018 The House passed a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on April 27, which included a section requiring changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to increase the agency’s emphasis on pre-disaster planning and mitigation. The Disaster...

Case Studies & Factsheets

Cover of AGI Factsheet 2018-002-Geologic Mapping and Public Health
Using Geologic Maps to Protect Public Health Geologic maps can be used to understand and mitigate public health risks across the US, in addition to their more traditional use in resource and infrastructure decisions. Geologic maps can show the location of naturally occurring hazardous materials and...
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Introduction Dry wells improve stormwater drainage and aquifer recharge by providing a fast, direct route for rainwater to drain deep into underlying sediment and rock. Dry wells are most common in the western U.S. where clay or caliche layers slow down the natural drainage of water into underlying...
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What grows in arid, sandy soils? How do these soils become dust? Many small organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, grow among the sand and silt particles in dry valley and desert soils. At the soil’s surface, these organisms often form biological webs (“microbiotic crusts”) that keep small sand and...
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
Although sinkhole development in susceptible areas cannot be completely prevented, policy makers and the public can use geologic maps that delineate karst features to develop strategies that can minimize or avoid property damage and personal injuries. Defining the Problem Sinkholes, which abound in...
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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...
Cover of Induced Seismicity from Oil and Gas Operations
Manmade Earthquakes Any activity that significantly changes the pressure on or fluid content of rocks has the potential to trigger earthquakes. This includes geothermal energy production, water storage in large reservoirs, groundwater extraction, underground injection of water for enhanced oil...
Fig 1. A NPS ranger leads visitors into the mouth of Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.
Geologic maps are being used in Kentucky to identify areas that have high potential for development of karst features, such as sinkholes and caves. Defining the Problem A new interstate highway, I-66, is being planned to pass through the vicinity of Mammoth Cave National Park (Fig. 1). It is one of...
Cover of AGI Factsheet 2018-003--Using Geologic Maps to Reduce Landslide Risk
Geologic Maps and Landslide Hazards A geologic map is key to understanding landslide risk. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and numerous state geological surveys around the nation prioritize the mapping of landslide-prone areas. Understanding landslide risk is crucial in making decisions around...
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 Observ.
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 currents affect areas that...
Fig.1. Home in Oakland, CA, destroyed by landslides in 1958. Source: J. Coe, USGS
In California, detailed modern geologic maps are fundamental for evaluating how susceptible an area is to earthquake-induced landslides. Defining the Problem The geologic history of the Oakland, California, area has produced steep hillsides and unstable rock and soil that generate damaging...
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
Geologic maps can help to show which areas may be more prone to landslides and therefore directly assist in making optimum engineering design choices. Defining the Problem U.S Highway 85 and ND Highway 22, along with numerous county roads, buildings, pipelines, and power lines, have been...
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What is a Dry Well? A dry well is a well that is used to transmit surface water underground and is deeper than its width at the surface (see image, below). Most dry wells are 30 to 70 feet deep and 3 feet wide at the surface. They are lined with perforated casings and can be filled with gravel or...
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
Surface and subsurface mapping of lahar and lahar runout deposits from Glacier Peak volcano has contributed important geologic information for land-management planning and emergency preparedness in the lower Skagit Valley. Defining the Problem Active volcanoes, such as Glacier Peak (Fig. 1), pose a...
Fig. 1. A 1995 landslide in Overland Park, Kansas, destroyed two homes and damaged four lots. Credit: Kansas Geological Survey
Landslide hazard maps based on geologic maps are a tool for local government officials, planners, developers, engineers, insurance companies, lending institutions, and landowners to assess the risk and take appropriate actions. Defining the Problem Damaging landslides occur even in vertically...
Cover of Subsurface Data in the Oil and Gas Industry
Introduction Drilling for oil and gas is expensive. A single well generally costs $5-8 million onshore and $100-200 million or more in deep water.1 To maximize the chances of drilling a productive well, oil and gas companies collect and study large amounts of information about the Earth’s...
Cover of AGI Factsheet 2018-004 - Present Day Climate Change
Climate Science 101 Climate is the average of weather conditions over several decades.1,2 Geoscientists monitor modern climate conditions (1880 A.D. to present) in part by taking direct measurements of weather data (i.e., air temperature, rainfall and snowfall, wind speed, cloudiness, and so on)...
Tornado funnel. Image Credit: NOAA
Remote sensing imagery is used by researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison to support recovery efforts after a tornado. 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...
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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
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. Defining the Problem The density and value of its buildings...
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
Geologic maps are useful in identifying areas that may be affected by post-wildfire debris flows. Land-use planners use these maps to identify potential hazards in areas that are proposed for development and to develop mitigation strategies. The maps can also focus post-wildfire emergency planning...
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What is a rip current? Rip currents are fast, concentrated flows of water that can form on beaches that have breaking waves.1 Every beach is different, but rips generally form when waves break across a wide surf zone and the beach bathymetry is uneven (e.g., if there are sandbars, piers, jetties,...
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
On November 3, 2002, the 800-mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline pipeline was able to withstand the largest recorded earthquake for the Denali fault without spilling a drop of oil and with only 3 days shutdown time for inspections. The survival of the pipeline demonstrates the value of combining...
Cover of Geoscientists in Petroleum and the Environment
Introduction Geoscience – the study of the Earth – underpins our understanding of the many intersections between petroleum and the environment, from the search for resources to the study of air pollutants. Without the work of geoscientists, we would have neither the energy system nor the...
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What is a rip current? Rip currents are fast, concentrated flows of water that can form on beaches that have breaking waves.1 Every beach is different, but rips generally form when waves are breaking and the underwater surface is uneven (e.g., if there are sandbars, piers, jetties, or groins along...
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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.

Cover image Understanding Professional Geologist License Requirements: California 2019, (Image credit: Laurie Racca)
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course focuses on the qualification requirements to get a Professional Geologist (PG) license in California and upcoming changes that applicants should understand. It will also provide an overview of the California laws and regulations that govern the practice of geology. Knowledge of...

GOLI Webinar on Story Maps
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

Communicating results of geoscience investigations to a diverse set of audiences will grow in importance in our 21st century world. Story maps are web mapping applications that provide geoscientists with the ability to combine 2D and 3D maps, audio, video, photographs, and narrative that can be...

GOLI Course: Converting Membrane Interface Probe Sensor Results into VOC NAPL Distribution Information. Image courtesy of Roger Lamb
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course will focus on how to use Membrane Interface Probe sensor results in combination with soil and groundwater analytical results to map the distribution of volatile organic chemical non aqueous phase liquids. This course covers guidelines for using direct sensing tools such as the MIHPT...

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...

Landslides and Mass Wasting
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course is designed to be an introduction to the subject of landslides or mass wasting. Landslides or mass wasting occur in both solid bedrock and in poorly-consolidated sediments. Concerning the latter, loose sands, clays and soft shales can prove to be quite problematic. These type of...

GOLI Course: Techniques for Developing High Resolution LNAPL Conceptual Site Models; Image courtesy of Roger Lamb
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course is intended for geologists involved in Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (LNAPL) assessment and remediation. This course provides information on the development of high resolution conceptual site models that can be used to guarantee the project goals are met. The class will cover...

GOLI Course: Assessing, Mitigating, and Communicating Flood Risk. Image courtesy of Maria Coxx Lamm
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

Flooding is a perennial hazard for rivers and coasts alike. Every year, flooding results in billions of dollars of damage and the loss of dozens to hundreds of lives across the United States. Efforts to mitigate this hazard rely on the work of geoscientists, planners, and communicators to assess...

GOLI Course: Planning for Coastal Storm and Erosion Hazards; Image credit: USGS/USFWS - photo by Greg Thompson
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

Coastal hazards are a widespread challenge that cost millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars in the U.S. every year due to property loss and spending on mitigation measures. Based on the most recent U.S. Census, over 39% of the U.S. population lives in areas that may undergo significant...

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...

Geological Surveys Database Publications

1997, United States Geological Survey

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2012, New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Minerals

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1980, Arizona Geological Survey
On May 3, 1887, a major earthquake shook much of the southwest United States and Mexico, an area of nearly two million square kilometers (Figure 1). This seismic event, with an estimated magnitude of 7.2 (DuBois and Sbar, in press), caused 51 deaths in northern Sonora, and major destruction of...
2003, United States Geological Survey
One hundred years ago this Memorial Day, the Kansas River overflowed its banks, flooding North Topeka with up to 12 feet of water in some places. Twenty-four people were drowned. Ninety years and almost 2 months later on July 25, 1993, floodwaters again threatened the city, but time and technology...
2001, United States Geological Survey

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2002, United States Geological Survey

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1973, Colorado Geological Survey
Colorado has approximately 10% of the total U.S. coal resources. These resources occur in eight coal regions and 20 coal fields that occupy about 28% of the total area of the state. Most of the coal is of Upper Cretaceous age but some is of much younger Paleocene and Eocene age. The higher rank...
1976, Colorado Geological Survey
Summary of coal resources in Colorado. 17 pages. Digital PDF download. SP-09D
2006, United States Geological Survey

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1982, Pennsylvania Geological Survey

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