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UPDATED: Earthquake Shakes U.S. East Coast

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


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Minutes ago, our 17-story building swayed side to side for a few seconds. Why? A 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, has shook the entire East Coast with reports on Twitter of shaking from at least Connecticut to North Carolina and inland as far as Ohio. You can get the latest information here at USGS.

As a precaution, building management is evacuating us (which is the wrong thing to do in an earthquake) and cars have started backing out of the nearby Holland Tunnel. More updates soon.

Update #1: The earthquake appears to have strengthened during the evacuation, now up to 5.9, according to USGS and centered northwest of Richmond and east of Charlottesville. Small earthquakes have been known in the region “since at least 1774,” according to USGS, with infrequent larger ones. The earthquake was centered roughly one kilometer deep and, unlike earthquakes on the West Coast, such eastern seaboard quakes tend to travel far, as much as 500 kilometers. That was certainly the case here, with reports of light shaking as far away as Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Update #2: This earthquake was a low probability event (see graph below). Also, we can thank the old, hard, cold crust for the long propagation of this relatively minor quake’s waves. Oh, and USGS has gone back to 5.8 and deepened the earthquake to some 6 kilometers beneath the surface (which is still relatively shallow).

About the Author: David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @dbiello.

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





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  1. 1. racer79 3:16 pm 08/23/2011

    Craziness, first an earthquake in Colorado yesterday, and now one in Virginia. Earthquakes are supposed to be rare in both of those regions, and now they’re happening back to back O_0

    Link to this
  2. 2. skittleys 3:56 pm 08/23/2011

    “…such eastern seaboard quakes tend to travel far, as much as 500 kilometers. That was certainly the case here, with reports of light shaking as far away as Cincinnati and Cleveland.”

    I felt it in Toronto, ~900km away!

    Link to this
  3. 3. Fishin_tchr 4:11 pm 08/23/2011

    I have heard reports of the quake being felt in Huntsville, Ontario, 240km north of Toronto.

    I was fishing in Whitby harbour (60km east of Toronto) and three large waves, just three, seemed to come out of nowhere. There had not been a boat passing the entire time I was there. The time coincided with the time reported for the quake.

    Link to this
  4. 4. holiday 8:58 pm 08/23/2011

    This region has had unusually high temperatures – I think. Is this true?

    I live on the west coast of Canada and I worry about a major quake here. I hear about the quakes around the Pacific basin and wonder why we haven’t had one yet.

    We’ve had extraordinarily low temperatures here. Lots of rain, cloudy days, cool to cold breezes in summer. Last summer we had a ‘heat wave’ because we got into the 90′s for a couple of days. This year, no heat wave. People say ‘beautiful day’ because we’re in the high 70′s.

    The glacial melt brings ice water down our coast. Does this cold temperature reduce pressure along our fault line?

    Can a geologist help me out here?

    Link to this
  5. 5. Zeborah 1:36 am 08/24/2011

    Evacuating (or any kind of moving other than “drop, cover, and hold”) is the wrong thing to do *during* an earthquake, but it’s generally the right thing to do after the shaking’s stopped. Unless you want to wait until all aftershock activity has ceased, in which case you may be waiting for months (in Christchurch we’re getting aftershocks still almost a year on).

    Link to this
  6. 6. Diesel67 1:44 am 08/24/2011

    I was on a train near Jamaica, Queens and I felt nothing. Not a thing. When my wife called me with the news I thought she was pulling my leg.

    Link to this
  7. 7. dmmiller2k 9:09 am 08/24/2011

    Enjoyed the article (blog post?) but, please: where is “here”?

    Link to this
  8. 8. happykat 2:19 pm 08/24/2011

    Another site I post on has a thread about the quakes. They say that the California, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Jersey quakes are all on or close to the 37th latitude.

    Oklahoma and Arkansas (which had a big swarm a few months back) are both above the 35th latitude line. The 37th also runs through approximately the middle of the New Madrid fault zone.

    That begs the question; is there a link to the New Madrid zone and is it possible it will go off next???

    Link to this
  9. 9. Ronnie 2:48 pm 08/24/2011

    A Earthquake was just reported in Peru, 6.8 in the northern country side. The Earthquakes we are seeing recently around the world are mechanical in nature and caused by alignments of planets or Comets like ELEnin. The East coast quake was predicted several weeks ago as large amounts of moisture covered the East weeks earlier. I also predicted the day before the East Coast quake that we would see a rise in the number of quakes in the U.S. and around the world as ELEnin readies to crosses directly in front of Earth on Sept. 9, 2011 at a distance of .223 au.

    Several Alignments have already taken place with ELEnin as it entered our solar system and is believed to be the cause of the Japan quake.

    The Hurricane Irene that is now barreling down on the east coast could facilitate yet another East Coast Quake. If the amount of rain exceeds 9 inches total a quake of 6.0 or larger could be expected within 10 days. The rebound in the Earth’s crust will be accelerated by the moisture and will coincide with stress from ELEnin’s crossing.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Wayne Williamson 7:49 pm 08/30/2011

    Ronnie…watching and waiting…what do you say if nothing happens…maybe next time…

    Link to this
  11. 11. 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 http://www.soskits.com 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.

    Link to this

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