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Damaging earthquakes could hit Mountain West cities in next 100 years, new map shows

This is a picture of a sign on the side of a building that says "Earthquake Warning" and notes the masonry wall is unsecured and may not be safe to be near during an earthquake.
John Harwood
Flickr Creative Commons
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, its updated National Seismic Hazard Model could help architects and engineers better design and construct buildings in high-risk areas.

New research shows many parts of the United States could experience a damaging earthquake in the future, including cities in the Mountain West.

Nearly 75% of America could face damaging earthquakes in the next century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which updated its National Seismic Hazard Model.

In the Mountain West, the possibility for damaging earthquakes are highest along the Walker Lane belt running through Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nev.; the Wasatch fault near Salt Lake City, Utah; the Eastern Snake River Plain near Idaho Falls, Idaho; and the Teton Fault near Jackson, Wyo. No areas of Colorado or New Mexico have significant earthquake risks.

The new research, which is an update from 2018, is the first comprehensive assessment of all 50 states. The map identified nearly 500 additional fault lines that could cause damaging earthquakes.

“This puts hundreds of millions of people at risk,” said Alex Hatem, a research geologist with the USGS. “And it extends beyond the areas that you might typically expect there to be high earthquake risk, like the plate boundary in California.”

Based in Colorado, Hatem is one of more than 50 scientists from around the country who worked on the yearslong project. She said they are not making earthquake predictions. But, she added, the research could help architects and engineers better design and construct buildings in high-risk areas, and help policymakers develop better building codes.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.