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...
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: 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: 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: 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 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 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-94-4 ; 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 OFR 2016-1035; Source U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has produced a 1-year seismic hazard forecast for 2016 for the Central and Eastern United States (CEUS) that includes contributions from both induced and natural earthquakes. The model assumes that earthquake rates calculated from several different time windows...
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...
Cover of fs2016-3020 ; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Using information from recent earthquakes, improved mapping of active faults, and a new model for estimating earthquake probabilities, the 2014 Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities updated the 30-year earthquake forecast for California. They concluded that there is a 72 percent...
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 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 OFR2014-1097; Source: U.S. Geological Survey
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) systems can provide as much as tens of seconds of warning to people and automated systems before strong shaking arrives. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and its partners are developing such an EEW system, called ShakeAlert, for the West Coast of the United...
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...