Earthquakes Will Hit These States Worst in Next Century

New model says 75% of the US could have damaging earthquakes in the coming decades
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2024 5:15 PM CST
Earthquakes Will Hit These States Worst in Next Century
A section of Vine Road, south of Wasilla, Alaska, is broken up following an earthquake on Nov. 30, 2018.   (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

Updates to the National Seismic Hazard Model predict a whole lot of shakin' will be going on in the United States over the next century. Though they currently cannot predict the exact timing of earthquakes, the Washington Post notes, studying past events and seismic faults allows experts to model risks of where they'll likely occur, including how severely. The updated model, which is revised every few years, has some new technical bells and whistles that allowed researchers to identify more than 500 new fault lines. A team of over 50 scientists and engineers used supercomputers to simulate past quakes, create soil depth models (to understand how some surfaces might magnify shaking), and track fault deformations via GPS data.

They learned that most states (75%) are vulnerable to earthquakes, per a press release, but certain regions stood out:

  • California, Alaska, Hawaii: These states are known for frequent earthquakes, but the model predicts more severe quakes may come in the next century (and ranked them highest—with more than a 95% chance of experiencing them). California and Alaska's earthquakes are caused by shifting tectonic plates, while Hawaii's are initiated by volcanic activity.
  • Mississippi Valley: This region, encompassing connected parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee, has between a 75% and 95% chance of damaging earthquakes due to a hot spot known as the New Madrid seismic zone.
  • Eastern Seaboard: One of the more surprising finds? Central Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina, have a 25% to 50% chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, which could reverberate to major cities along the coast. These earthquakes would be occurring within a tectonic plate rather than between two, which scientists believe happens when old fault systems are reactivated.

While the likelihood of a major east coast earthquake is less than other regions, the impact would be huge. "The biggest change in risk appears to be in the Eastern Seaboard," Greg Beroza, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University, tells the Post, because the "concentration of people and built infrastructure" in major cities increases potential for hazardous aftermath. Understanding how and where earthquakes will likely strike could result in better preparation. "We try to make the best model we can that can be used in building codes, insurance rates, planning by FEMA, and by states," says Mark Petersen, who published a study on the new model. "We want to produce more resilient communities so that when an earthquake does strike, we can quickly recover." (A Japanese earthquake moved the coastline 820 feet).

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