When the shaking stopped, the work began - for USGS scientists

When their offices and homes began shaking at 5:04 p.m., Oct. 17, 1989, earthquake scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., were as surprised as anyone. But when the shaking stopped and they realized that this was "a big one," many of those scientists knew that they were beginning the most challenging and rewarding years of their careers. The past 10 years have lived up to their expectations.

In the decade following the Loma Prieta earthquake, scientists from the USGS and cooperating organizations intensified their efforts to help safeguard the San Francisco Bay area from even larger shocks in the future. Some of these future earthquakes will occur closer to the urban core of the region than the 1989 temblor. Although future large earthquakes are inevitable, say USGS scientists, continuing advances in science and engineering afford new avenues for limiting losses and reducing impacts of future shocks.

A fact sheet produced by the USGS to mark the 10th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake highlights the scientific efforts and progress that will help reduce earthquake losses. The fact sheet describes how USGS scientists and personnel from cooperating organizations are working to quantify more fully the earthquake threat to the Bay area, to promote greater awareness of earthquake hazards, and to improve strategies for reducing earthquake losses. Scientists have been pursuing a wide range of investigations from digging exploratory trenches across geologic faults, to measuring the continuous slow straining of the Earth's surface that causes earthquakes, to documenting the intensity and pattern of ground shaking during large shocks. New scientific information and understanding derived from these efforts are incorporated into products critical for improving earthquake safety:

  • estimates of the odds for future large earthquakes
  • building codes that more accurately reflect the shaking that may threaten a structure

Contact: Pat Jorgenson
United States Geological Survey

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