Is New York City overdue for a big earthquake?
When you think about areas that experience seismic activity, you might think Yellowstone National Park, San Francisco and coastal cities along the Pacific Ring of Fire.
What probably won’t come to mind is New York City, but seismologists have warned that the city is overdue for a 5.0 magnitude earthquake or higher.
The reasoning behind this claim has to with the city’s history of earthquakes and its many fault lines.
Earthquakes on the east coast, while rarely big enough to be felt or cause damage, do occur. In 2011, a 5.8 earthquake struck near Virginia but could be felt strongly in Manhattan.
More recently, in late November of 2017, an earthquake near Delaware caused some tremors in the New York area.
Faraz Toor, an associate producer and writer for NY1, recently reported a thorough investigation into New York’s moderate earthquake risk.
“While New York is at moderate risk for earthquakes, its high population and infrastructure could lead to significant damage when a magnitude 5 quake or stronger hits the area,” said Toor.
Although even residents may not be aware, there are actually quite a few fault lines in New York City.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), faults of every size can be found on all continents, but their risk of seismic activity varies depending on the geological conditions and how active different regions are.
Toor points to several notable faults in New York City, including the 125th Street Fault, the Dyckman Street Fault, the Mosholu Parkway Fault, and the East River Fault.
The 125th Street Fault runs all the way into East River from New Jersey.
Even though these faults don’t carry the same risks as other well known and heavily monitored seismic zones, there is a chance of an earthquake causing substantial damage in New York City in the near future.
By looking at the city’s past earthquakes, experts point to the likelihood of 5.0 or greater hitting the city soon. The last known earthquakes that were 5.0 or greater occurred in 1737 and 1884.
“Researchers say New York City is susceptible to at least a magnitude 5 earthquake once every 100 years, a 6 about every 670 years, and 7 about every 3,400 years,” writes Toor. “It’s been 134 years since New York was last hit by at least a magnitude 5. When it happens next, researchers say it won’t be much like 1884.”
The damage caused by an earthquake today would be far more significant due to the city’s infrastructure and high population. More buildings equal a greater risk of damage, and if a major quake were to strike it could cost the city billions of dollars.