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Nearly 75% of the U.S. could experience a damaging earthquake over the next 100 years

CALIFORNIA ( — Nearly 75 percent of the U.S. could experience a damaging earthquake over the next 100 years, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey-led team of 50+ scientists and engineers.

California is particularly at risk with a staggering 95% probability or greater of enduring a damaging earthquake shaking within the century. This was one of several key findings from the latest USGS National Seismic Hazard Model (NSHM).

The model was used to create a color-coded map that pinpoints where damaging earthquakes are most likely to occur based on insights from seismic studies, historical geologic data, and the latest data-collection technologies.

National Seismic Hazard Model (2023). Map displays the likelihood of damaging earthquake shaking in the United States over the next 100 years.
(National Seismic Hazard Model (2023). Map displays the likelihood of damaging earthquake shaking in the United States over the next 100 years.)

New tools and technology identified nearly 500 additional faults that could produce a damaging quake, showcasing the evolving landscape of earthquake research.

“This was a massive, multi-year collaborative effort between federal, state and local governments and the private sector,” said Mark Petersen, USGS geophysicist and lead author of the study. “The new seismic hazard model represents a touchstone achievement for enhancing public safety.”

The model represents the first-ever assessment concerning seismic hazards for the entire nation, reflecting significant advancements since previous editions. Since its last comprehensively updated versions in 2018 for the contiguous U.S., 2007 for Alaska, and 1998 for Hawaii, there have been striking changes.

Notably, the new model suggests the Atlantic Coastal corridor, including major cities such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, might experience more severe earthquakes than previously thought.

The USGS has also signaled that California and Alaska, both areas with a history of seismic events, might face a greater degree of shaking.

Observations of recent volcanic activity and seismic unrest have prompted experts to reassess Hawaii’s seismic potential.

“Earthquakes are difficult to forecast but we’ve made great strides with this new model,” said Petersen. “The update includes more faults, better-characterized land surfaces, and computational advancements in modeling that provide the most detailed view ever of the earthquake risks we face.”

Key findings from the updated seismic hazard model include:

  • Risk to People: Nearly 75% of the U.S. could experience potentially damaging earthquakes and intense ground shaking, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk.
  • Widespread Hazard: 37 U.S. states have experienced earthquakes exceeding magnitude 5 during the last 200 years, highlighting a long history of seismic activity across this country.
  • Structural Implications: The updated model will inform the future of building and structural design, offering critical insights for architects, engineers, and policymakers on how structures are planned and constructed across the U.S.
  • Unified Approach: This marks the first National Seismic Hazard Model to encompass all 50 states simultaneously, reflecting a massive collaborative effort with federal, state, and local partners.
  • Not a Prediction: No one can predict earthquakes. However, by investigating faults and past quakes, scientists can better assess the likelihood of future earthquakes and how intense their shaking might be.

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