Operational Context – Earthquakes


When it comes to earthquakes and being aware / ready for major earthquakes, you might think of the San Andreas Fault, or places like Japan, Chile, China, Mexico or Indonesia.

However in the past year, there have been two extremely significant earthquakes in the United States that were “outliers” from previous events.  Both of these were felt over large areas and measured above 5.5 on the Richter Scale.

However, I just recently discovered an incredible post by the US Geological Service (USGS) on the Oklahoma Earthquake.  In this post at http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/oklahoma-struck-by-series-of-quakes/, the following image paints a very clear picture:

This map contains several data sources:

Combined, these resources show where earthquakes have occurred in Central Oklahoma over the past 30-40 years.  As raised in the USGS post:

“Earthquakes are not unusual in Oklahoma; they are often simply too small to be felt. However, earthquake activity in this area has increased over the past 4 years.

From 1972 through 2007, the USGS recorded about two to six earthquakes a year in Oklahoma. But in 2008, earthquake activity began to increase, with more than a dozen earthquakes recorded that year. In 2009, the rate continued to climb, with nearly 50 quakes recorded — many big enough to be felt. In 2010, the trend continued.

There has also been a change in the distribution of the earthquakes.

From 1973 to 2007, the earthquakes were scattered broadly across the east-central part of the State. The events since 2008, however, have been more clustered in the vicinity northeast and east of Oklahoma City and generally southwest of Tulsa. This sequence of earthquakes was in this area.”

2008 Earthquakes of Oklahoma – via OGS – http://www.ogs.ou.edu/pubsscanned/EP9p9earthquakes.pdf

Now, take a look at the second image (2008 image) and compare how the earthquake patterns show the void of activity in the Lincoln, Creek, Payne County areas just northeast of Oklahoma City.  Looking back, this is quite a remarkable change in the historical pattern.  We didn’t have all the pieces to “expect” a M5.6 earthquake in Central Oklahoma, however we did have historical context to significant earthquakes.  The previous record for the state was a M5.5 earthquake in 1952 in El Reno, Oklahoma.  It had been nearly 60 years since that event (more than 1/2 the age of the state), however the impacts of that event and the lessons learned are important to help people prepare.

The important lesson here is to be prepared and know your historical risk.  Earthquakes in Central Oklahoma are no surprise.  Their magnitude may be from time to time, but this again is a great example of being prepared for that once in a generation or two event, and how preparedness for that event will pay off.  Furthermore, all-hazards preparedness is a major key.  Much of Central Oklahoma is prepared for tornadoes, and their preparedness for another hazard may have been the key to quick action during this earthquake.

You never know exactly when a big event like an earthquake will occur, however we can pay attention to the trends and when the out of the ordinary event occurs, we can take the appropriate action required.

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47 comments on “Operational Context – Earthquakes

  1. I’m not from the States, but the ground was shaking a bit here in Montenegro last week. It’s been the second time since we moved here and it’s a very very strange feeling of the Earth being too huge and powerful and you being too little and powerless to change anything.

  2. Pingback: The Importance of Operational Context « disastermapping

  3. Pingback: Is the End soon? » Two More Earthquakes in Maine Dec 14,2011

  4. I really wish I found this site before last summer’s exams 0_o. Well, at least I know now :D. This place is quite impressive, and with enough GIS to make me cry with happiness. GIS is so much more impressive when applied to tectonic activity than when it is applied to footfall patterns throughout a city and the corresponding economic statuses of the area (coursework – FML) .Keep up the good work, and thank you.

  5. New Zealand’s government agency information “Geonet” (geonet.org.nz) often relies on USGS for preliminary earthquake reports for New Zealand public briefings. (New Zealand is a seismically active country)

  6. This is one excellent example of how GIS can be used to advantage not just by professionals but also by the general public for issues concerning our well-being. To get an idea about how location-related data can be collected and mapped using the free iCMTGIS for iPAD application, please visit http://icmtgis.wordpress.com

  7. Pingback: Operational Context – Drought « disastermapping

  8. my question to you is: has there been an increase in hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas in these areas? “fracking” is known to cause earthquakes, especially earthquakes that are closer to the surface. i have noticed a pattern of increased earthquake activity everywhere fracking is being done.
    this is not unusual. the injection of hydraulic fluid acts as a lubricant in the layers of soil which causes the subterranean soil to move. about 50 years ago there was an experiment in colorado where fluid was injected into a fault in hopes that it would ease the stress and reduce the chance of earthquakes. the opposite aoccurred; the lubricant allowed the fault to let loose causing a continuous quake that stopped only after the fluid injection was halted. just a thought…

  9. First congratulations on being freshly pressed and second nice to see an earthquake related blog in the limelight. Sometimes it feels very lonely out there.

    The Oklahoma quake was not as you say out of the ordinary. It occurred on the Wilzetta fault also known as the Seminole uplift. You will find details of the geology of the area in this PDF.

    This PDF file is a very interesting study of the Wilzetta fault area but be warned it is a 147 Mb download!

    On page 75 of the document you will find a map of the area under study – through which the Wilzetta fault runs down the middle – and you will see that the whole area either side of and on the fault is peppered with wells. This is the element you have not mentioned in relation to the increase of earthquakes recently. It coincides with the increase in hydraulic fracturing (fracking or fraccing).

    It is reasonable to assume that the 5.8 was a normal part of the faulting, but many of the smaller quakes are the direct result of injection and there is the possibility that this is some way help to trigger this larger quake.

    We are aware of the fact that the use of geothermal energy and drilling for same leads to the incidence of earthquakes. In some areas, Iceland for example, there is evidence that these installations can trigger quite large earthquakes.

    Now I find a document describing how scientists are seeking out fault lines to use for geothermal resources.

    The document is entitled Active Fault Controls at High-Temperature Geothermal Sites: Prospecting for New Faults.

    I leave you to work out what this infers!

  10. however we can pay attention to the trends and when the out of the ordinary event occurs, we can take the appropriate action required.

  11. Pingback: Disaster Mapping: Earth Quakes, etc. « SwittersB & Fly Fishing

  12. Hi – great post. And yes, awareness of a quake history is vital. I’m a New Zealander – we get quakes like California and Japan. We had a 5.7 where I live, just 10 days ago – plus a cluster of smaller aftershocks. Awareness of quakes – and precautions – is second nature to us. Highlighted recently by the destruction of Christchurch with the loss of 185 lives. A place that was NOT meant to be so quake prone. That’s provoked a government review of all quake proofing around the place. Most people have water supplies, food, cookers and the like – just in case.

    That said, quakes can and do occur in areas outside colliding continental plates, often for different reasons. I guess there is some evidence about fracking, but natural geology can also provoke issues. It makes absolute sense to be aware. Places where quakes are rare, by nature, won’t be built with the same quake-proofing, nor will people have the same precautions in place. Should they? Yes – sensibly, reasonably and in proportion to the risk, given the history. Thanks again for your insights – good stuff.

    Matthew Wright
    http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com
    http://www.matthewwright.net

  13. Some of these earthquakes popping up in Oklahoma, and to a lesser degree North-Central Texas may be due to the alarming amount of fracking and drilling operations going on in these areas.

  14. Excellent and interesting article. I was in a really nasty earthquake in 1972 in Managua, Nicaragua and it haunts me to this day. The amount of ground movement in a powerful earthquake is almost unbelievable – it feels more like being in a small boat in a storm than the shaking usually associated with earthquakes.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Great description of the ground movement. A few weeks back, I was riding the DC Metro. There are times when the cars accelerate quickly and then feel like the cars are jumping. When you don’t struggle to stand up and let gravity and momentum work, it feels pretty similar to a M5.0 – M6.0 earthquake

  15. That is one scary situation I do not want to be stuck in. I think I should follow your page so that I can gain a little more knowledge about this. Never know what could happen with this crazy weather now a days. 1coffeehouse.wordpress.com

  16. I work for a drilling company and have done some work in the Atoka and Coal counties south of Oklahoma City as well as in the Elk City areas west of OKC near the Texas border. When you are driving through Oklahoma, you can notice dramatic changes in the landscape. There are rolling hills which suggest an accordion type folding of the ground which then crosses over in to steep mountains jutting up across the plain. This variation in the landscape is due to the many faults present in that state.

  17. This was a well written and researched material I have ever read on this subject. We have friends who live in this part of the country. To insure better prepareness on their part for this possible event I am sending this posting off to them now. Congrats on being chosen for “Freshly Pressed.” What saddens me that a blog of this quality does not get more feedback. It certainly has greater value than some of the blogs I have noted that have received this award. It points out that most folks live in LaLa land in their prepareness for events such as this.

    • Thanks for providing feedback. Before being “Freshly Pressed”, there was a relatively small audience. In the past two days, I’ve had more traffic to the site than the first 3 months combined! The number of comments has been impressive as well and has really brought a good bit of discussion and sharing of ideas. Thanks again for your kind words and feedback

  18. I never would have thought when I moved to Oklahoma that I would have to include earthquakes in my disaster preparedness plan. My belief that earthquakes big enough to be felt did not happen here was certainly shaken last month, though.

    • Thank you for having a disaster preparedness plan. The other part of this series that I haven’t mentioned yet is that when you prepare for one disaster type (ie. flood or tornado), you may think that those are more likely in a place like Oklahoma… until an event like the November earthquake occurs. Afterwards we think about including earthquakes in our disaster preparedness plans. However even though we didn’t individually plan for the specific event before November, we could apply general principles from our disaster preparedness plan in order to make sound decisions to protect life and property in the seconds after the earthquake. The fact that you have a plan is huge! It helps you adapt more smoothly to the unexpected events.

      Thanks again for the input

  19. Gee I was really hoping that California would drop into the ocean so we could have beach front property in Boulder, Colorado! Kidding- Hahaha!
    NCAR is located here where they record and study seismic activity from around the world and I think there is a location in Golden as well.
    Interesting study!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • I know about NCAR for atmospheric information, and knew of the Golden facility, but didn’t make the connection between the two. Thanks for the FYI and for the congrats. Being freshly pressed surprised me for sure, but it brought nearly 2,000 visitors in 36 hours. Basically doubling the blog traffic from the past 3 months in just 36 hours!

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