October 20, 2012

Last week’s New England quake on cam

Posted by Austin Elliott

On Tuesday evening (Oct. 16, 2012) just after 7pm Eastern a modest quake rippled out from a few kilometers beneath Maine.

At a meager 4.0 the quake was quite harmless, but it was a surprising jolt for a rather large region not accustomed to periodic tremors. Cameras filming all manner of council meetings captured the interruption.


In most views the quake is only apparent as a light noise and mild rattling (“I’ve never been in an earthquake my whole life and that was it?” says one woman), but in at least one of them–presumably much closer to the epicenter than the others–the room suffers a sizable jolt that sends its occupants scurrying (by the way: not what to do).

Although the rattled populace (including most of New Hampshire, much of Vermont, upstate New York, and the Boston metro area) reacted with mild alarm and substantial disbelief, New England is no stranger to earthquakes. As the USGS explains, Boston and New York have been rattled by earthquakes since before America was America, including damaging earthquakes in 1638, 1737, 1755, and 1884. Central New Hampshire suffered a moderate (M5.6) quake in 1940, and let’s not forget the M5.2 that rocked a region around upstate New York in 2002. As with most quakes around this region, this one likely resulted from reactivation of an ancient seam in the crust, long dormant but tweaked just right by the complex and evolving stresses across the continent. These minor quakes pop off quite irregularly and of course unpredictably.

For a more comprehensive list of earthquakes in your New England state, have a look at the USGS’s state earthquake history pages. They’re not as rare as you think!