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Could a big earthquake reduce Manhattan to rubble someday?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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earthquakes, indian point, nuclear, new yorkA new study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University says there’s more seismic activity around the Big Apple than previously thought. Researchers also say they discovered a new active fault line running from Stamford, Conn., 25 miles (40.2 kilometers) west toward the Hudson River. There, this underground fault intersects with another fault line.

Sitting on top of that intersection is the Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Scary stuff perhaps? Maybe—but big earthquakes still remain geologically unlikely around New York City.

The study authors say that a magnitude 5 quake on the Richter scale, which could cause some moderate damage, last jostled the region in 1884. They go on to say that based on historical evidence going back to 1677, such magnitude five temblors should happen about every 100 years. They also estimate that magnitude 6 quakes (10 times more powerful that a magnitude 5) rock the region every 670 years or so, and magnitude 7 earthquakes (100 times bigger than a magnitude 5) can happen every three and a half millennia or so.

That’s a good deal less hazardous than, say, southern California: The U.S. Geological Survey says it’s 60 percent likely that a good-size magnitude 6.7 quake will happen there just in the next 30 years.

Nevertheless, the new study has already influenced negotiations over extending operations at the Indian Point’s nuclear reactors, according to a press release accompanying the study. Last winter, New York’s former governor and the state’s attorney general filed papers to prevent the nuclear plant’s parent company, Entergy, from re-licensing the facility for an additional 20 years. The New York politicians cited the upcoming Columbia study on earthquakes as one of the key reasons for questioning the plant’s safety, according to the press release.

The debate over Indian Point continues, according to a New York Times story from early August. Residents of the area around Indian Point may have a thing or two to say about keeping radioactive material near two seismic zones.

Image: All known quakes near the Indian Point nuclear power plant (near Peekskill, New York, or "Pe" on map) between 1677-2004, graded by magnitude (M). (adapted from Sykes et al.)






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  1. 1. mdm10 6:29 pm 08/24/2008

    Edgar Cayse refers to a giant cave beneath Manhattan.

    Link to this
  2. 2. mdm10 6:30 pm 08/24/2008

    Edgar Cayce refers to a giant cace beneath Manhattan.

    Link to this
  3. 3. science head ed 10:50 pm 08/24/2008

    nothing to worry about…its my understanding that the island will be under water long before an earth quake can strike

    Link to this
  4. 4. NewYorkRob 2:16 pm 08/25/2008

    If you are reading this you will be long gone when the earthquake hits hundreds of years from now.

    By the way, Edgar Cayce is dead. Stop quoting his silly predictions.

    Link to this
  5. 5. bucketofsquid 10:58 am 09/3/2008

    Edgar Cayce, like Nostradomus, had a very low success rate with his predictions. The only real difference is that Edgar gave actual dates instead of vague hints at possible time frames. I do remain very curious as to how anyone could take Edgar seriously after Atlantis failed to rise from the sea last century.

    Link to this
  6. 6. springer999 1:38 pm 01/9/2009

    The main report writer, 74 year old Lynn Sykes, cooked up this scenario as a volunteer offering to the anti-Indian Point campaign of NYS AG Andrew Cuomo.

    Only after Cuomo failed to convince the NRC that Sykes’ imaginings were germaine, over a year later… only then did Sykes publish the tome in a small science journal, to which he had posted many articles over the years.

    Sykes has been seen since then, preaching anti-Indian Point propaganda to octegenarians at the Esplanade nursing home…. so what are we to make of it all?

    My take is that Sykes is way past his prime, likes the excitement of scaring the old folks, and is just blowing hot air.

    Nice movie scenario, though.

    Link to this
  7. 7. JamesDavis 3:50 pm 06/25/2010

    Could a big earthquake reduce Manhattan to rubble someday? …We can only hope!!! If you keep your fingers crossed and pray real hard to Buddha, it could be this week some time.

    Link to this
  8. 8. louile88 5:33 pm 09/22/2011

    With all the crazy things going on in our world lately, I’m happy that I finally found for preparedness products and training. Mike and his team are easy to talk to, and I found a coupon code online (code is: 911) that got me a discount on my order, as well as contributed a portion of my order to a good cause.

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