Hazards

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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 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

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...
Atlantic waves
(2018-05-04)
April 18, 2018 Following the historic 2017 hurricane season, members of Congress seem to be focusing more of their attention on updating and improving flood mapping efforts nationwide. Currently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) produces flood hazard maps for the nation, which can be...
NASA hurricane satellite image
(2018-05-04)
April 12, 2018 On April 12, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Transportation, and Science held a hearing to examine the status of local and federal agencies’ recovery from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, and ongoing preparation for the 2018 season starting in June. Chairing the hearing, Senator...
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...
Hazards fire houses
(2018-01-04)
December 22, 2017 The Southern California Thomas Fire raced through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in early-December on the heels of what has already been a highly destructive wildfire season this year for the west coast. As of December 22, the California Department of Forestry and Fire...
House chamber
(2018-01-04)
December 22, 2017 President Donald Trump signed H.R.1, a bill to provide for tax reform, into law on December 22. Passed under budget reconciliation procedures, Public Law No: 115-97 includes Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) provision directing the Secretary of the Interior to implement an oil and...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-12-12)
November 16, 2017 In response to the catastrophic wildfires in 2017 thus far, and the escalating costs of battling fire-related damages, Congress is fielding legislation to promote forest management techniques that would return resilience to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands. On November 1, the...
NASA hurricane satellite image
(2017-12-12)
November 2, 2017 The devastating 2017 hurricane season has prompted Congress to take action in recent months, with a number of committee hearings held in both chambers and new legislation introduced relating to natural disaster preparedness and response. On October 31, 2017, the Senate Homeland...
Mammatus clouds that are usually associated with thunderstorms.
(2017-10-26)
October 10, 2017 The 2017 hurricane season is on track to be one of the most damaging and costly on record. Although the costs for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are still being assessed, the lowest current estimates of damage from Harvey alone fall in the $40 to $50 billion range, making it...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-10-05)
September 27, 2017 The U.S. Forest Service estimates that up to 60 million acres of our national forests are at a high to very high risk of catastrophic wildfire. In 2017 alone, wildfires have burned more than 8 million acres of land in the United States and suppression costs have exceeded $2.3...

Case Studies & Factsheets

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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 Observ.

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) [as of 2005]1. Soft soils amplify the motion of earthquake waves, producing greater ground shaking and increasing the stresses on structures....

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 [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...

Fig 1. A NPS ranger leads visitors into the mouth of Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.

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 the nation’s most popular parks and is also extremely vulnerable to environmental impacts. This area is a classic karst terrain characterized by...

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GOLI Online Courses

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...

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: 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: 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: 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: 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

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; 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 image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2011, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
Las Cruces is one of the largest towns in the department of Petén in northern Guatemala (Figure 1). Heavy rainfall associated with a hurricane in 2008 and a tropical depression in 2010 caused severe flooding, resulting in displacement of 7,000 residents. An Engineers Without Borders (EWB) team...
Cover of NaturalDisasters3.pdf; Source: American Institute of Professional Geologists
2006, American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG)
An important and practical application of geology is identifying hazardous natural phenomena and isolating their causes in order to safeguard communities. According to the USGS, the average economic toll from natural hazards in the United States is approximately $52 billion per year, while the...
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2012, 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 2010-2011 and information about sponsored projects.
Cover of ss-152; Source Utah Geological Survey
2014, Utah Geological Survey (UGS)
The Copperton quadrangle, in the southwest portion of Salt Lake Valley, is expected to experience a significant population increase in the next several decades. As urbanization expands into areas less suited for development, geologic hazards, become of increasing concern in the planning, design,...
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2011, 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 2009-2010 and information about sponsored projects.
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2013, 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 2011-2012 and information about sponsored projects.
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 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...