How can an earthquake affect groundwater or changes in wells?

Groundwater levels in wells may oscillate up and down while seismic waves pass, and in some cases, the water level may remain higher or lower for a period of time after the seismic wavetrain has ended.

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How does the USGS tell the difference between an earthquake and a sonic boom?

Steps to identification of a sonic boom: The USGS sees either nothing on our seismic records or a fairly short high-frequency signal that doesn't look like an earthquake. On rare occasions, we see the event on multiple stations, and the time difference between stations matches the speed of sound in air, which is slower than the speed of seismic...

What are earthquake lights?

Phenomena such as sheet lightning, balls of light, streamers, and steady glows, reported in association with earthquakes are called earthquake lights (EQL). Geophysicists differ on the extent to which they think that individual reports of unusual lighting near the time and epicenter of an earthquake actually represent EQL: some doubt that any of...

Can you feel an earthquake if you're in a cave? Is it safer to be in a cave during an earthquake?

There is nothing different about a cave that would make it immune to the shaking from an earthquake. Just as there are safer and less safer places to be on the surface of the earth during an earthquake, there are also various characteristics inside caves that make some cave locations safer or less safe than others. First of all, whether or not you...

What is liquefaction?

Liquefaction takes place when loosely packed, water-logged sediments at or near the ground surface lose their strength in response to strong ground shaking. Liquefaction occurring beneath buildings and other structures can cause major damage during earthquakes. For example, the 1964 Niigata earthquake caused widespread liquefaction in Niigata,...

Where can I find photographs of earthquake damage?

Two sources for photographs that show earthquake damage are: Earthquake Hazards Program - Earthquake Photo Collections U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library (see 'earthquakes' in the categories left column)

Why do earthquakes in other countries seem to cause more damage and casualties than earthquakes in the U.S.?

There is more damage and more deaths from earthquakes in other parts of the world primarily because of buildings which are poorly designed and constructed for earthquake regions, and population density.

What are those booms I sometimes hear before or during an earthquake?

"Booms" have been reported for a long time, and they tend to occur more in the Northeastern US and along the East Coast. Of course, most "booms" that people hear or experience are actually some type of cultural noise, such as some type of explosion, a large vehicle going by, or sometimes a sonic boom, but there have been many reports of "booms"...

At what magnitude does damage begin to occur in an earthquake?

It isn't that simple. There is not one magnitude above which damage will occur. It also depends on other variables, such as the the distance from the earthquake, what type of soil you are on, etc. That being said, damage does not usually occur until the earthquake magnitude reaches somewhere above 4 or 5.

What does an earthquake feel like?

The way an earthquake feels depends on where you are, where the earthquake is, and how big the earthquake is: A large earthquake nearby will feel like a sudden large jolt followed quickly by more strong shaking that may last a few seconds or up to a couple of minutes if it's a rare great event. The shaking will feel violent and it will be...
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Date published: January 30, 2018

January 23, 2018 M7.9 Gulf of Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami

One week ago, on January 23rd at 12:31 a.m. local time, Alaskans were rocked by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake, with an epicenter in the Gulf of Alaska, about 350 miles southwest of Anchorage, and about 175 miles southeast of Kodiak Island.

Date published: January 24, 2018

Alaska Earthquake Rattles Florida’s Groundwater Plumbing

At 12:32 am Alaska time on January 23, 2018, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake shook Alaska residents out of their beds and set off fears of a tsunami all down the West Coast. Fortunately, the tsunami was only a few inches in height, but within an hour of the earthquake in Alaska, waves of a different sort were hitting far away in Florida. 

Date published: March 20, 2014

The Science Behind the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami

Why does the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake Matter 50 Years Later? Scientific experts will talk about a half-century of scientific and monitoring advances triggered by the 1964 events.

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Regional map showing the Gulf of Alaska and epicenter of M7.9 earthquake
January 23, 2018

Regional map Gulf of Alaska earthquake

USGS regional map of the January 23, 2018 earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska

graph with multiple colored lines going horizontally. All the lines have a noticeable uptick at the same time.
January 23, 2018

Hydrographs indicating possible groundwater level changes due to quake

Examples of hydrographs indicating possible groundwater level changes due to January 23, 2018, Gulf of Alaska M7.9 earthquake. (These data are preliminary or provisional and are subject to revision.) These provisional data are presented in a combined, simplified figure to highlight the observed

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Image: Damage in Residential Area
May 25, 2008

Damage in Residential Area

Extensive damage in residential area in Mianyang.

Image shows a map of Florida with USGS groundwater monitoring stations

USGS Groundwater Watch for Florida

A map of USGS groundwater monitoring sites in Florida. Of the 606 current sites in Florida, 149 have real-time data. Visit here for more information.

Image shows hydrographs from two Florida groundwater monitoring stations

Florida Groundwater Hydrographs

Hydrographs from two USGS groundwater monitoring sites in Florida show effects on groundwater levels from the M7.9 earthquake near Kodiak, Alaska.