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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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What is a debris flow?

Debris flows are fast-moving landslides that are particularly dangerous to life and property because they move quickly, destroy objects in their paths, and often strike without warning. They occur in a wide variety of environments throughout the world, including all 50 states and U.S. Territories. Debris flows generally occur during periods of intense rainfall or rapid snowmelt and usually start...

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What is a debris flow?

Debris flows are fast-moving landslides that are particularly dangerous to life and property because they move quickly, destroy objects in their paths, and often strike without warning. They occur in a wide variety of environments throughout the world, including all 50 states and U.S. Territories. Debris flows generally occur during periods of intense rainfall or rapid snowmelt and usually start...

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How do I sign up for the ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning System?

The USGS issues ShakeAlert® Messages but alert delivery will come by other public and private means (internet, radio, television, cellular), including Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) -- think of an AMBER Alert -- delivered by FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). Alert delivery via the WEA system is available in California, Oregon, and Washington. To ensure that you can...

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How do I sign up for the ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning System?

The USGS issues ShakeAlert® Messages but alert delivery will come by other public and private means (internet, radio, television, cellular), including Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) -- think of an AMBER Alert -- delivered by FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). Alert delivery via the WEA system is available in California, Oregon, and Washington. To ensure that you can...

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Does the Latest Earthquakes map show non-earthquake seismic events?

In addition to naturally occurring earthquakes, human activities such as mining and construction blasts can sometimes produce seismic waves large enough to be detected on the USGS national seismic network. These artificially-generated events have a different seismic ‘fingerprint’ from tectonic earthquakes, so they can be discerned by a seismologist when reviewed.Specifically, small quarry blasts...

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Does the Latest Earthquakes map show non-earthquake seismic events?

In addition to naturally occurring earthquakes, human activities such as mining and construction blasts can sometimes produce seismic waves large enough to be detected on the USGS national seismic network. These artificially-generated events have a different seismic ‘fingerprint’ from tectonic earthquakes, so they can be discerned by a seismologist when reviewed.Specifically, small quarry blasts...

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Where are the faults in the Central and Eastern U.S.?

Faults vs. Fault Lines on a MapIn order to answer this question, we first need to explain some basics about faults. Faults are different from fault lines. A fault is a three-dimensional surface within the planet that might extend up to the surface or might be completely buried. In contrast, a fault line is where the fault cuts the Earth's surface… if indeed it does.The most prominent faults in...

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Where are the faults in the Central and Eastern U.S.?

Faults vs. Fault Lines on a MapIn order to answer this question, we first need to explain some basics about faults. Faults are different from fault lines. A fault is a three-dimensional surface within the planet that might extend up to the surface or might be completely buried. In contrast, a fault line is where the fault cuts the Earth's surface… if indeed it does.The most prominent faults in...

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Can a large earthquake trigger earthquakes in distant locations or on other faults?

Sometimes.Earthquakes, particularly large ones, can trigger other earthquakes in more distant locations though a process known as dynamic stress transfer/triggering. This means that the energy from the seismic wave passing through can cause a new earthquake, usually in vulnerable locations prone to frequent earthquakes (e.g., volcanic regions). Examples of large events that triggered distant...

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Can a large earthquake trigger earthquakes in distant locations or on other faults?

Sometimes.Earthquakes, particularly large ones, can trigger other earthquakes in more distant locations though a process known as dynamic stress transfer/triggering. This means that the energy from the seismic wave passing through can cause a new earthquake, usually in vulnerable locations prone to frequent earthquakes (e.g., volcanic regions). Examples of large events that triggered distant...

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What is a hotspot and how do you know it's there?

Most volcanic eruptions occur near the boundaries of tectonic plates, but there are some exceptions. In the interior of some tectonic plates, magma has been erupting from a relatively fixed spot below the plate for millions of years. As the plate continuously moves across that spot, a trail of progressively older volcanic deposits is left at the surface. The Hawaiian Islands are a good example of...

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What is a hotspot and how do you know it's there?

Most volcanic eruptions occur near the boundaries of tectonic plates, but there are some exceptions. In the interior of some tectonic plates, magma has been erupting from a relatively fixed spot below the plate for millions of years. As the plate continuously moves across that spot, a trail of progressively older volcanic deposits is left at the surface. The Hawaiian Islands are a good example of...

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Does fracking cause earthquakes?

Most induced earthquakes are not directly caused by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States is primarily caused by disposal of waste fluids that are a byproduct of oil production.Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than is injected during the hydraulic fracturing process, making them...

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Does fracking cause earthquakes?

Most induced earthquakes are not directly caused by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States is primarily caused by disposal of waste fluids that are a byproduct of oil production.Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than is injected during the hydraulic fracturing process, making them...

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How do you determine the place name for an earthquake?

For the automated naming of earthquakes we use a GeoNames dataset to reference populated places that are in close proximity to a seismic event. GeoNames has compiled a list of cities in the United States where the population is 1,000 or greater (cities1000.txt). This is the primary list that we use when selecting nearby places. In order to provide the public with a better understanding for the...

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How do you determine the place name for an earthquake?

For the automated naming of earthquakes we use a GeoNames dataset to reference populated places that are in close proximity to a seismic event. GeoNames has compiled a list of cities in the United States where the population is 1,000 or greater (cities1000.txt). This is the primary list that we use when selecting nearby places. In order to provide the public with a better understanding for the...

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What is the difference between aftershocks and swarms?

Aftershocks are a sequence of earthquakes that happen after a larger mainshock on a fault. Aftershocks occur near the fault zone where the mainshock rupture occurred and are part of the "readjustment process” after the main slip on the fault. Aftershocks become less frequent with time, although they can continue for days, weeks, months, or even years for a very large mainshock.A swarm, on the...

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What is the difference between aftershocks and swarms?

Aftershocks are a sequence of earthquakes that happen after a larger mainshock on a fault. Aftershocks occur near the fault zone where the mainshock rupture occurred and are part of the "readjustment process” after the main slip on the fault. Aftershocks become less frequent with time, although they can continue for days, weeks, months, or even years for a very large mainshock.A swarm, on the...

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Can nuclear explosions cause earthquakes?

A nuclear explosion can cause an earthquake and even an aftershock sequence. However, earthquakes induced by explosions have been much smaller than the explosion, and the aftershock sequence produces fewer and smaller aftershocks than a similar size earthquake. Not all explosions have caused earthquakes. The range of a possible earthquake triggered by an explosion is limited to a few tens of...

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Can nuclear explosions cause earthquakes?

A nuclear explosion can cause an earthquake and even an aftershock sequence. However, earthquakes induced by explosions have been much smaller than the explosion, and the aftershock sequence produces fewer and smaller aftershocks than a similar size earthquake. Not all explosions have caused earthquakes. The range of a possible earthquake triggered by an explosion is limited to a few tens of...

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What is a landslide hazard map?

Several kinds of maps are used to depict danger from landslides. These maps might be as simple as a map that uses the locations of old landslides to indicate potential instability, or as complex as a map incorporating probabilities based on variables such as rainfall, slope angle, soil type, and levels of earthquake shaking. The following types of maps are used to describe and depict landslide...

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What is a landslide hazard map?

Several kinds of maps are used to depict danger from landslides. These maps might be as simple as a map that uses the locations of old landslides to indicate potential instability, or as complex as a map incorporating probabilities based on variables such as rainfall, slope angle, soil type, and levels of earthquake shaking. The following types of maps are used to describe and depict landslide...

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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 waves in rock.Felt reports come from a wide area, which...

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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 waves in rock.Felt reports come from a wide area, which...

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