Breakthrough: 2011 earthquake revealed wider impacts than previously thought possible

Description: People from the Carolinas to the Midwest to New England, including Maryland, knew the Aug. 23, 2011, 5.8 magnitude earthquake was rare as soon as they felt its rumblings. But U.S. Geological Survey research has show just how unusual – the quake triggered landslides over an area 20 times larger than previous research has shown to be possible or likely.

Researchers: USGS scientist Randall Jibson was the lead author on the study, being published in the December issue of Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

Stage of research: After analyzing data from the 2011 quake, researchers found that the farthest landslide was 150 miles from the epicenter, which they say is by far the greatest landslide distance for an earthquake of that magnitude. They compared it to previous studies that found landslides occurred no farther than 36 miles from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Researchers had already determined that the earthquake was likely felt by more people than any other in U.S. history, about one-third of the U.S. population.

Implications: The earthquake provided a relatively rare window into East Coast seismology that could improve future preparations and precautions. Scientists could revise equations predicting ground shaking across the East, helping to make earthquake risk assessments more accurate and emergency preparedness more appropriate.

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