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 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.
(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...
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...
NASA hurricane satellite image
(2017-09-14)
August 29, 2017 In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey making landfall on the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were preparing for the massive storm by monitoring its...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-09-14)
August 3, 2017 As the U.S. endures another fire season, legislators on the Hill are seeking to address some of the challenges associated with managing wildland fires on federal land. A hearing held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on August 3 tackled the complex challenges in...
Coastal hazards webinar flyer. Image Credit: C. Hegermiller, USGS
(2017-06-15)
Register now for this upcoming Critical Issues Webinar! July 6, 2017 at 1:30pm EDT. 90 minutes.   This special 1.5 hour-long AGI Critical Issues webinar will focus on efforts to anticipate, mitigate, and respond to coastal storms, erosion, and associated hazards at the federal, state, and local...
Atlantic waves
(2017-06-09)
May 25, 2017 On May 25, the Senate passed the Digital Coast Act (S.110) to help coastal communities prepare for storms, adapt to rising sea levels, and strengthen economic planning efforts. S.110 officially authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Digital Coast...
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...
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...

Case Studies & Factsheets

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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...

CI_Factsheet_2017_4_drywellbasics_170906_thumb.JPG

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...

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 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...

Research Database Publications

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 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...
Grimsvötn on May 22, 2011.
2014, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
When Grimsvötn Volcano in Iceland erupted in May 2011, northern European airspace was closed for seven days and about 900 passenger flights were canceled. Scientists were charged with trying to read the volcano — to tell how high the ash plume would go and to figure out how long the violent...
Cover of OFR09-02 ; Source: Kansas Geological Survey
2009, Kansas Geological Survey (KGS)
The land owner first observed the feature July 2007 in a native grass hayland. The feature’s shape was circular and was six feet in diameter and 30 feet deep. The land owner backfilled the feature October 2007 and submitted a plugging report to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE...
Home Landscaping And Maintenance On Swelling Soil; Source: Colorado Geological Survey
1981, Colorado Geological Survey (CGS)
The information contained in this publication is intended to assist Colorado homeowners in minimizing damage caused by swelling bentonite soil. Although we have emphasized improvements that homeowners themselves can and should make, we do not imply that all or even most swelling soil-related damage...
Cover of RI2014-5; Source: Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys
2014, Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (AK DGGS)
Fisher volcano, containing the largest Holocene caldera in the Aleutian volcanic arc, is an active volcano near the center of Unimak Island, about 120 kilometers southwest of Cold Bay and about 175 kilometers northeast of Dutch Harbor. The volcano is composed of numerous small volcanic centers...
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...
Cover of 90-24; Source: Maine Geological Survey
1990, Maine Geological Survey (MGS)
Identification of landslide prone sites in Maine is imperative in order to maintain the safety of affected developed areas and future developments. Large landslides in Gorham, Maine in 1983 and Rockland, Maine in 1973, a number of smaller landslides, and evidence of historical and prehistorical...
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 87-4; Source: Maine Geological Survey
1987, Maine Geological Survey (MGS)
Many landslides in Maine have occurred in the marine clay, called the Presumpscot Formation, which covers much of southern Maine. This glacially derived clay was deposited in the sea during the retreat of the late Wisconsinan ice sheet, and subsequently was uplifted by crustal rebound after the...