An Earthquake History: Finding Faults in Virginia

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Virginia in 2011 was a wake-up call. Originating deep under Louisa County, the quake was felt as far north as Canada and caused significant structural damage around the state. Today, earthquakes pose an even greater risk as the population density and development continue to increase. In this article, geologists Wendy Kelly and Anne Witt of the Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources (DGMR) provide background information on earthquakes and explain how the state is preparing for the next quake. Scientists have been able to identify three major “seismic zones” where earthquakes originate in Virginia. The largest of is the Central Virginia Seismic Zone. Other smaller hot spots can be found in the New River Valley within the Giles County Seismic Zone, and along the southwestern border in the Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zone. DGMR is participating in a project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Together they will assess the commonwealth’s seismic risks by overlaying their geodatabase of faults with population and infrastructure maps. Using that risk assessment data, DGMR is working with the 12 Virginia planning district commissions that fall inside the seismic zones to create strategies for mitigating loss.
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The Virginia News Letter