Experts: Limited possibility of earthquakes hitting here

If an earthquake did hit here, it would likely be much smaller than the one in Haiti.

Published: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 11:32 p.m.

The possibility of earthquakes occurring in the Southern United States is extremely limited, seismologists from the University of Florida and the University of Texas say.

"The beautiful thing about Florida is that we are kind of far from places where we would expect lots of seismic activity," said Ray Russo, a geophysics professor at the University of Florida.

"While we do have little earthquakes that happen all the time, it seems less likely that we would have very large earthquakes," he said.

Paul Mann, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas' Institute for Geophysics in Austin, Texas, shares this sentiment.

"The people in the Southern U.S. might experience an earthquake, but it would be much smaller than the one experienced in Haiti or some of the ones that have been experienced along the San Andreas Fault," he said.

Mann said Haiti is a plate-boundary area, with plate boundary faults. These are faults where the Earth's crust is divided into large plates that move together to produce the grinding motion that causes the earthquakes.

"Plate boundary faults are responsible for more earthquakes than any other type," he said.

Other areas, such as Charleston, S.C., have older fault systems that are being reactivated by stress within the plates. He noted that these fault systems are capable of destructive earthquakes, as well, and cited the Charleston earthquake that occurred in the 19th century as an example. Regardless, he said, these types of quakes are infrequent and not worth the concern paid to plate-boundary areas such as Haiti or California.

While earthquakes in the southeastern U.S. are unlikely, that does not mean that faults are not located in the Florida region, as Russo noted.

"There is a significant structure along the northern part of Florida, which is the boundary between Florida and the rest of North America that runs along the Florida/Georgia border. That fault at one point was very active and had lots of earthquakes," he said.

"But at this point, it seems quiescent; we don't see any evidence for seismicity along it."

With that in mind, Russo said earthquake preparations should serve as the least of Floridians' worries.

"It is probably not really very important that we prepare for earthquakes," Russo said.

Instead, Russo noted, Floridians should be more concerned about the threat of tsunamis.

"Tsunami waves can travel right across the ocean," Russo said.

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