Frequently Asked Questions

Natural Hazards

The USGS monitors and conducts research on a wide range of natural hazards to help decision-makers prepare for and respond to hazard events that threaten life and property.

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Image: Landslide
Yes, in some cases human activities can be a contributing factor in causing landslides. Many human-caused landslides can be avoided or mitigated. They are commonly a result of building roads and structures without adequate grading of slopes, poorly planned alteration of drainage patterns, and disturbing old landslides. Detailed on-site...
Image: Landslide Sampling
Landslides are a serious geologic hazard common to almost every State in the United States. As people move into new areas of hilly or mountainous terrain, it is important to understand the nature of their potential exposure to landslide hazards, and how cities, towns, and counties can plan for land-use, engineering of new construction and...
Image: 2005 Landslide in Conchita, CA
A landslide is defined as the movement of a mass of rock, debris, or earth down a slope. Landslides are a type of "mass wasting," which denotes any down-slope movement of soil and rock under the direct influence of gravity. The term "landslide" encompasses five modes of slope movement: falls, topples, slides, spreads, and flows. These are further...
Magnitude 6.9 Earthquake off Japan on November 21, 2016
Magnitude estimates for a given earthquake can vary between reporting agencies due to differences in methodology, data availability, and inherent uncertainties in seismic data. Individual agencies use magnitude estimation procedures designed to meet the agency's specific needs and monitoring capabilities. Even for well-recorded events, differences...
Image: Seismographs at the U.S. Geological Survey
The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has helicorders (seismogram displays) available for several areas in the United States and the World. Our research partner IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) has two applications, the Station Monitor and the Global Seismogram Viewer, for viewing seismograms. IRIS also supplies software that...
Image for real-time earthquake data
USGS earthquake information mechanisms are all triggered by the same system, so they all receive the information at the same time. The time it takes for the system to receive the information primarily depends on the size and location of the earthquake: An earthquake in California is processed and posted to the system in 2.5 minutes (on average)....
Crop of OK earthquake
Ten kilometers is a "fixed depth". Sometimes data are too poor to compute a reliable depth for an earthquake. In such cases, the depth is assigned to be 10 km. Why that number? In many areas around the world, reliable depths tend to average 10 km or close to it. For example, if we made a histogram of the reliable depths in such an area, we'd...
Image: Installing Antenna and Solar Panel for Seismic Station
The USGS often updates an earthquake's magnitude in the hours and sometimes days following the event. Updates occur as more data become available for analysis and more time-intensive analysis is performed. Additional updates are possible as part of the standard procedure of assembling a final earthquake catalog. There are physical and operational...
Tsunami Evacuation Route Sign
Tsunami information is added to individual USGS event pages for earthquakes under two conditions: If we get information (alerts) from any of NOAA's Tsunami Warning Centers, or For any earthquake of magnitude 5.0 or greater that occurs in the Pacific Ocean, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Caribbean Sea, or Hawaii For More Information, See NOAA's...
Screenshot of earthquake notification webpage
Yes, please go to the USGS Earthquake Notification Services (ENS) to sign up for free emails or text messages to your phone. Use the default settings or customize ENS to fit your needs. Also check out the many different Earthquake Feeds.
Image: Closeup of the San Andreas Fault
Seismologists evaluate the hypocenter location and the focal mechanism of an earthquake to decide if the earthquake occurs on a named fault. Research shows that many earthquakes occur on small, un-named faults located near well-known faults. For example, most of the aftershocks of the 1989 M6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on small, subsidiary...
Earthquake Catalog Map Results Example
The USGS and networks contributing to the Advance National Seismic System (ANSS) take great effort to provide accurate and timely earthquake information. Occasionally our systems produce erroneous information that is released to the public via our web pages or Earthquake Notification System. These mistakes are generally promptly identified by...