Many people I know in New York City shake their heads when they learn I live in San Francisco and say something like, “How could you live there?  You could fall into the ocean at any moment!”  Little do they know that they too have a significant earthquake risk…and they are woefully unprepared!

Won-Young Kim who runs the seismographic network for the Northeast at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory reports that the city is well overdue for a significant earthquake. The last big quake to hit New York City was a 5.3-magnitude tremor in 1884 that happened at sea in between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook. While no one was killed, buildings were damaged.  Kim said the city is likely to experience a big earthquake every 100 years or so. “It can happen anytime soon,” Kim said. “We can expect it any minute, we just don’t know when and where.”

Wq Seismap
Earthquakes in New England and surrounding areas. The data for 1924-1974 is from the U.S. Geological Survey, and the data for 1975-2006 is from the Weston Observatory archives of earthquakes recorded by the Northeastern United States Seismic Network.

New York has never experienced a magnitude 6.0 or 7.0 earthquake, but magnitude 5.0 quake could topple brick buildings and chimneys in a city whose building codes were not meant for seismic events.  Seismologist John Armbruster said a magnitude 5 quake that happened now would be more devastating than the one that happened in 1884.

To study potential earthquake damage to the city, Columbia scientists are expanding their seismometer network — they maintain six throughout the five boroughs, all at New York City landmarks. Two more seismometers are planned for this summer, one in the arch at Washington Square Park, and another one in Bryant Park.

Currently seismometers are located at:

  • Chelsea Waterside Park at 23rd Street
  • Columbus Park in Chinatown
  • Under the Williamsburg Bridge in East River Park
  • Central Park, just off the 96th Street transverse
  • Fordham University in the Bronx
  • Queens College
9 11 04
When the World Trade Center towers collapsed, those powerful effects were registered on the Richter scale. The Northeast at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory captured the seismic impact of the plane impact to the two WTC towers and their subsequent collapse.

The seismic signals from 9/11 were captured, as though they came from actual earthquakes.  On the Richter scale:

  • 1st plane impact (North Tower): 0.9 (local magnitude)
  • 2nd plane impact (South Tower): 0.7
  • 1st collapse (South Tower): 2.1 magnitude
  • 2nd collapse (North Tower): 2.3 magnitude

When were the last quakes in NYC? Manhattan’s has its own fault line running along 125th Street, which registered a 2.4 tremor in 2001. In 2010 a quake off the East End of Long Island registered 3.9.

The theme here is of course a reoccurring subject on this blog…preparedness is the key regardless of where you live!–nyc-past-due-for-a-big-quake