Groundwater Response to Earthquakes

Science Center Objects

Did you know? Earthquakes can affect groundwater levels?

We often see a response to large (and sometimes not so large) earthquakes in groundwater levels in wells. The USGS maintains a network of wells for monitoring various things like natural variability in water levels and response to pumping and climate change across the U.S.

Graph showing the wave charts of groundwater wells around the country responding to an earthquake

Comparrison of several groundwater records from well monitors arounf the United States showing their record of an Earthquake.

(Public domain.)

The well network can be seen here: https://groundwaterwatch.usgs.gov/

 

The M8.1 earthquake that took place September 8, 2017 in the Pacific region offshore Chiapas, Mexico was observed across the U.S. in confined aquifer wells within the network. The wells in this plot are available from the National Water Information System (NWIS) web are from: TX, CA (southern), OK, MO, VA, CA (central), MD, NJ, PA, OH, NY and ME (from south to north). This is just a small sampling of the wells.

 

The frequency of data in these plots varies -- some are collected every minute, some every 15 minutes, and some hourly -- depending upon the purpose of the monitoring, giving different responses to the earthquake. The magnitude of the response depends on: local geology, hydrology, when the data point was collected, and when the seismic wave hit the aquifer that the well penetrates.

Read about how the 2011 earthquake in Mineral, VA affected groundwater levels here: https://water.usgs.gov/ogw/eq/VAquake2011.html

Find more information about groundwater response to earthquakes.https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/groundwater.php

Graph of Well data showing the 2011 earthquake felt in New Jersey

Groundwater Hydrograph from the Cranston Farms New Jersey observation well showing a spike during the August 2011 east coast earthquake

(Public domain.)