Can we cause earthquakes? Is there any way to prevent earthquakes?

Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented at many locations in the United States and in many other countries around the world. Earthquakes can be induced by a wide range of causes including impoundment of reservoirs, surface and underground mining, withdrawal of fluids and gas from the subsurface, and injection of fluids into underground formations.  While most induced earthquakes are small and present little hazard, larger and potentially damaging manmade earthquakes have occurred in the past. 

The hazard posed by manmade earthquakes can be mitigated by minimizing or in some cases stopping the activity that is causing the earthquakes to occur.  For example, earthquakes linked to wastewater disposal in deep wells in Colorado, Ohio and Arkansas stopped occurring after injection was halted.

We cannot prevent natural earthquakes from occurring but we can significantly mitigate their effects by identifying hazards, building safer structures, and providing education on earthquake safety.  By preparing for natural earthquakes we can also reduce the risk from human induced earthquakes.

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Do earthquakes occur in Antarctica?

Earthquakes do occur occasionally in Antarctica, but not very often. There have been some big earthquakes--including one magnitude 8--in the Balleny Islands. The boundary between the Scotia Plate and the Antarctic Plate just grazes the north tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (again, look "northwest" from the Pole toward South America). There is also...

Where can I find earthquake educational materials?

The USGS has earthquake education resources on several websites: Earthquakes for Kids Topics for Earthquake Education USGS Resources for Teachers Other good starting points include: State Geological Surveys for states in earthquake-prone regions The Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills website IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology),...

What is surface faulting or surface rupture in an earthquake?

Surface rupture occurs when movement on a fault deep within the earth breaks through to the surface. NOT ALL earthquakes result in surface rupture.

At what depth do earthquakes occur? What is the significance of the depth?

Earthquakes occur in the crust or upper mantle , which ranges from the earth's surface to about 800 kilometers deep (about 500 miles). The strength of shaking from an earthquake diminishes with increasing distance from the earthquake's source, so the strength of shaking at the surface from an earthquake that occurs at 500km deep is considerably...

Why are there so many earthquakes in the Geysers area in Northern California?

The Geysers Geothermal Field is located in a tectonically active region of Northern California. The major seismic hazards in the region are from large earthquakes occurring along regional faults that are located miles away from the geothermal field, such as the San Andreas and Healdsburg-Rodgers Creek faults. However, activities associated with...

What is an earthquake and what causes them to happen?

An earthquake is caused by a sudden slip on a fault . The tectonic plates are always slowly moving, but they get stuck at their edges due to friction. When the stress on the edge overcomes the friction, there is an earthquake that releases energy in waves that travel through the earth's crust and cause the shaking that we feel. In California there...

Foreshocks, aftershocks - what's the difference?

"Foreshock" and "aftershock" are relative terms. Foreshocks are earthquakes that precede larger earthquakes in the same location. An earthquake cannot be identified as a foreshock until after a larger earthquake in the same area occurs. Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that occur in the same general area during the days to years following a...

Can the position of the moon or the planets affect seismicity? Are there more earthquakes in the morning/in the evening/at a certain time of the month?

Earthquakes are equally as likely to occur in the morning or the evening. Many studies in the past have shown no significant correlations between the rate of earthquake occurrence and the semi-diurnal tides when using large earthquake catalogs. Several recent studies, however, have found a correlation between earth tides (caused by the position of...
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USGS Forecast for Damage from Natural and Induced Earthquakes in 2016
October 28, 2016

USGS Forecast for Damage from Natural and Induced Earthquakes in 2016

USGS map displaying potential to experience damage from a natural or human-induced earthquake in 2016. Chances range from less than one percent to 12 percent.

Chimney collapsed. Brick all over yard
December 31, 2013

Earthquake damage to chimney

House damage from earthquake.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity.

Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity.

Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today.

Installation of seismometers to monitor seismicity

Installation of seismometers to monitor induced seismicity

Bryant Platt digs a hole to install seismometers at a home in southern Kansas. Seismometers are in the foreground.

Attribution: Earthquake Hazards