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What is the cause of the recent increase in earthquakes? Is there potential for more?

What is the cause of the recent increase in earthquakes?  Is there potential for more?


What is the cause of the recent earthquakes?

A USGS scientist explains the reason for the recent rise in the number of earthquakes and aftershocks in the region.

PHILADELPHIA – Friday we had a strong 2.9 that some people felt. We also had three more earthquakes this week ranging in magnitude from 1.3 to 1.5.

But probably no one felt that way.

Each higher number on the size scale is ten times stronger. That's why some people felt 2.9 on Friday, and many people in the Northeast felt 4.8 in April.

The earthquakes that occurred this week are actually aftershocks from the April quake.

We spoke to a USGS scientist, who said these aftershocks could last from months to years. These aftershocks occur because a larger earthquake reactivates some of the instability at the fault.

Earthquakes are caused by faults, which are cracks in the rocky areas beneath our feet. We have disadvantages here because of our mountains. When mountains formed, such as the Poconos, there were cracks left in the rock.

Scientists aren't sure what fault caused the April quake.

So, universities from around the country and the U.S. Geological Survey, the government agency that studies earthquakes, recently set up hundreds of seismometers in an all-out effort to better understand the fault that caused the quake and its future potential.

We have too many faults in our area, according to USGS scientist Oliver Boyd. We don't hear about them as much because they are not as active as those out west, like in California.

There, the rock plates pack together or slide past each other. Here, in the east, cracks in the rock are reactivated by typical Earth forces.

The weight of our nearby mountains is one example of strength. For example, when a large mountain compresses the Earth, it adds additional weight to that area.

Other possible causes are moving lithospheric plates. The lithospheric plates are actively separating in the mid-Atlantic.

In fact, this happens where Iceland is located. This is part of the reason why there are so many volcanoes and earthquakes in Iceland. The force of the lithospheric plates separating adds momentum towards us.

The way magma (underground lava) moves and hits the rocks beneath our feet is another force that can trigger earthquakes at ancient faults.

Another cause of earthquakes is how the ground moves here in the east. Our Earth is still feeling the effects of glaciers from the last ice age.

Think of our Earth as a memory foam pillow. When you lift your head off the memory foam pillow, it takes a few seconds for that pillow to adjust and feel normal again.

The land in New England is actually rising because it is still adjusting to the weight of the now-vanished glaciers. This comes at the expense of our region as the land is flooded to compensate.

This oscillation in ground motion between the mid-Atlantic and New England is another possible cause of the recent New Jersey earthquake. This fluctuation also causes a slight additional rise in sea levels on our shores.




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