Small Earthquakes Common In Eastern US

Jan 9, 2019

Red circles show earthquake epicenters in the eastern United States from 1972-2012 (source: ANSS catalog). Blue circles show earthquake epicenters from 2018-2019 (source: ComCat catalog). The Jan 7, 2019 M2.2 Earthquake near Canton, NC, is shown with a blue star. Significant historical events are shown with gold stars.
Credit Courtesy of Scott Marshall / Appalachian State University

There was a 2.2 magnitude earthquake west of Asheville earlier this week.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it's the fourth small quake felt in the area in the past month. But Appalachian State University Geophysicist Scott Marshall says that's not really surprising.

“Damaging earthquakes in the eastern U.S. are rare,” Marshall said. “Small earthquakes in the eastern U.S. are pretty common. Several hundred per year.”

Damaging earthquakes in the eastern U.S. are rare. Small earthquakes in the eastern U.S. are pretty common. Several hundred per year. -Scott Marshall

They're far less common than the many thousands rocking Southern California each year. But Marshall says, when large quakes happen on the East Coast, the cold, contiguous rock below the surface carries vibrations further.

“Eastern United States earthquakes are rare, but they do happen,” he said. “And when a damaging event happens, like the Mineral, Virginia, earthquake, they are felt over much larger regions than a location like California.”

The magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia in 2011 caused buildings in Boston to sway.

Asheville is across the border from the active Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zone.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a 2011 earthquake in the American South rung church bells in Boston. That impact came from a larger Southern quake in 1811.