There would be catastrophic damage and substantial loss of life if an earthquake with the magnitude of today’s quake in Virginia would ever befall Manhattan.
Earlier today, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck Mineral, VA, and it rumblings were felt as far away as New Hampshire. My building in Manhattan shook for several seconds; people were flocking to social media to share what had just transpired.
While earthquakes aren’t a daily occurrence in the tri-state area, thousands of quakes have occurred without calamity over the past several centuries. However, a moderate M5 quake holds the potential for disaster.
“There are many faults have known to exist in New York City and mild earthquakes have been reported in the past. The highest magnitude was close to 5 in 1884 and did cause some damage (locations somewhere between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook; Lynn Sykes & Leonardo Seeber, Seismologist at Lamont Doherty). Such earthquakes (magnitude 5) have recurrence interval of 100 years or so (Lamont),” Nazrul Khandaker, associate professor and discipline coordinator of geology at the City University of New York wrote in an e-mail.
“Since then, rapid increase in population density, urbanization, and tremendous growth in overall infrastructure development in New York City have taken place. Based on our current infrastructure conditions, a hypothetical scenario of 5.9 magnitude earthquake taking place in New York City will be extremely attention-getting, as Armbruster (Lamont) mentioned in his seismological report,” Khandaker continued.
“Extremely attention-getting” is an understatement. Cornell University Earth and Atmospheric Sciences professor Matt Pritchard pointed me to a 2003 research report, “Earthquake Risks and Mitigation in the New York New Jersey, and Connecticut Region” that provides an assessment of what could happen.
Research for the report was conducted from 1999 to 2005 with contributions by the Federal government, New York, New Jersey, multiple universities, and the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering. Here are some of its key findings:
Here’s the impact that moderate to severe quakes would have on people, property, and infrastructure (I don't think that my renter's insurance has me covered):
Buildings and Infrastructure would take a serious hit.
There are more than a few "essential facilities" within the tri-state region. There are approximately:
I don’t want to be accused of fear mongering at the expense of my fellow New Yorkers – we aren’t sinning any more than usual. CUNY’s professor Khandaker noted that occurrence of today’s earthquake in Virginia “was not out of the norm.”
“Several smaller magnitude earthquakes took place in close proximity to this epicentral area in the past and release of stress through ancient faults dating back to several hundred million years could be the probable reason for today's 5.9 Magnitude Earthquake (measurement confirmed by the United States Geological Survey). The localization of stress in this area is connected with the separation of eastern North America from Europe and Africa two hundred million years ago,” he said.
(Image Credit: "Earthquake Risks and Mitigation in the New York New Jersey, and Connecticut Region")
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com