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What is the risk of earthquakes in Duluth?

Does anyone know about the seismic issues in this area? What kind of risk are we at for an earthquake? If one occurred in Lake Superior, could a tsunami be generated? If so, how big? Any other relevant facts or thoughts related to this?

Major earthquakes and shifts in weather patterns seem to be the norm these days. Does this align with anyone’s scientific knowledge or religious beliefs associated with the “End Times”? And, if you think it is the end times, is Duluth a good place to be? I sure think it is.

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32 Comment(s)

  1. I’ve often wondered the same thing. When I’m out sailing, I see “rouge” waves. Larger that normal isolated crests traveling in a direction not with the other wave action. What about the age of the local geology? I know it’s some of the “oldest” on the planet. Good question. Any geologists handy?

    baci | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  2. According to my junior high science teacher, an earthquake in Duluth is extremely unlikely. There are no known tectonic faults going through the region. However, if the “end times” are nigh, I would assume the laws of science are out the window.

    TimK | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  3. There is almost no chance of an earthquake being felt in Duluth. Go to and check it out. The probability of an earthquake with magnitude greater than 5 in the next 100 years is zero. You’re more infinitely more likely to die driving around town in your car.

    BryGuy | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  4. From

    In general, east of the Rockies, individual known faults and fault lines are unreliable guides to the likelihood of earthquakes. In California, a large earthquake can generally be associated with a particular fault because we have watched the fault break and offset the ground surface during the earthquake. In contrast, east of the Rockies things are less straightforward, because it is rare for earthquakes to break the ground surface. In particular, east of the Rockies, most known faults and fault lines do not appear to have anything to do with modern earthquakes. We don’t know why.

    Even if we could pin an individual earthquake on an individual fault, that would still be only part of the answer we want. There is, in general, no reliable way to know where or when the NEXT damaging earthquake will occur, and that is the earthquake that is of the greatest interest to society.

    Barrett Chase | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  5. Zero. Far more likelty to be wiped out by Yellowstone eruption. Far FAR more likely to crash your car and die that way.

    lojasmo | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  6. There is the Douglas Fault, that created Amnicon Falls. It runs from the falls to down close to the Twin Cities (Rush City area). Considering it’s been billions of years since there was any activity, I’d assume we’re safe.

    Another fun geological fact: the ancient Brule river used to flow in the opposite direction!

    flateric | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  7. Great thread….things to learn….no dissent so far, happy ’bout that.

    Jude | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  8. But really aren’t you worried about what will happen to your pets if the rapture were to occur tomorrow?

    chadp | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  9. Barrett’s paste-in about no real faults east of the Rockies is not so accurate, since the Chicago area had one within the last month or so.

    Karasu | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  10. Lakes can slosh around after a distant earthquake (seismic seiches). Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana reported 18″ waves yesterday, caused by the Chilean quake hours earlier.

    We were admiring the moonlit ice on Superior last night, when the lake surged a bit, for no apparent reason. The wind picked up a short time later, so the less interesting explanation seems most likely.

    pH | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  11. Mall of America has an earthquake-resistant foundation.

    adam | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  12. Other than erosion, the geology of Duluth and northeast Minnesota is essentially cold and dead today. The region (along with much of the central North America) is situated in what’s called the North American craton -- a region of relative stability -- at least for the past 600 million years. But if you were hanging around Duluth a few hundred million years earlier (a billion years ago), then you would have had something to worry about. At that time, the continent was splitting in two and lava was pouring out of a major rift that ran from Michigan to Kansas, and right down the middle of where Lake Superior is today. This went on for millions of years. The rifting eventually ended and the area stabilized again. Duluth and the Arrowhead region today set atop these ancient lava beds (now basalt and gabbro and the like), which are estimated to be between 7-12 miles thick!

    Earthquakes do occur in areas of the North American craton. As someone else mentioned, Chicago just experienced an earthquake earlier this month. It wasn’t a very big one, only 3.8 magnitude. Earthquakes have also been reported in south-central Minnesota. ( Then there’s the New Madrid fault around southern Illinois-Missouri border. In the the winter of 1811-12, there were a series of earthquakes (magnitude 7.8-8.1) around the town of New Madrid, MO that were the most powerful ever reported in the contiguous United States. It’s still an active area.

    markryan | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  13. I attempted to have a little fun with this a month or so ago after Pat Robertson’s moronic comments re: Haiti.

    But I got criticized fairly roundly on the facts. As in I didn’t have them right. But I thought I was on at least somewhat fertile ground even though I was stepping in with satire and all (not nearly as good at that as I wish I was). Apparently continental divides and such are way more stable than those pesky faultlines.

    Once I heard that Nashville or somewhere in the southeast US had the deadliest ever earthquake. And like Karasu said, Chicago had one so … I thought there was a chance we were prone.

    wildgoose | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  14. Our household geologist sneers at the likelihood of earthquakes here.

    I worry more about hot hail.

    The Big E | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  15. Hasn’t Hollywood taught you guys anything? It’s totally going to be just like in “10.5: Apocalypse” -- Duluth is annihilated by a giant, omniscient, killer earthquake that splits the entire North American continent in half and opens up pits of lava that quickly are extinguished by the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay rushing in to meet each other. And Randy Quaid gets eaten by a killer tornado but lives to fall in love with Shannen Doherty. They kiss. Then the world ends.

    Tamara | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  16. @Karasu, the quote doesn’t say that earthquakes don’t occur east of the Rockies. They obviously do. It says that east of the Rockies, faults and fault-lines have little to do with where earthquakes occur.

    Every time I write “east of the Rockies” I think of Coast to Coast AM, which wants me to believe that an earthquake is definitely going to happen right in my living room in 2012.

    Barrett Chase | Feb 28, 2010 | New Comment
  17. “10.5: Apocalypse” is real. Tamara has just set me off on an a new, dramatic and totally unnecessary mission, finding it:

    One reviewer puts at least the first episode cleanly in the “so bad its good” territory. Sounds like it would have been a perfect selection for the short-lived Tuesday night Brew-n-View series at the NorShor. Zinema?

    wildgoose | Mar 1, 2010 | New Comment
  18. What’s worse, JP, is that “10.5: Apocalypse” is a sequel.

    Tamara | Mar 1, 2010 | New Comment
  19. I checked out the UMD quake monitor (it’s in the long hallway between the main part of the campus and the science buildings), and ran into one of the geology professors while we looked at the chart showing the Chile earthquake. There’s an interesting animation on the screen showing the path of the tsunami as well.

    He told me that the earthquake in Chile (at 8.8 on the scale) is really about as strong as an earthquake can possibly be--he conceded that there has been one measured at 9.5, but it is really “almost unheard of” for the scale to reach that high. His opinion is that rocks rubbing together simply cannot store that much energy for such an explosive earthquake.

    So, scientist says, 10.5 Apocalypse = pure sci fi, not based in science. The world will have to end some other way, I guess…and anyway, wasn’t it supposed to go out with a whimper, not a bang?

    TS Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

    davids | Mar 1, 2010 | New Comment
  20. We are safe here. Middle of the craton, baby! There are other concerns for us here.

    woodtick | Mar 1, 2010 | New Comment
  21. Do extremely substantial farts qualify as earthquakes? Some of us need to know.

    Also, do my current series of PDD comments equate me to Danny? If so, please kill me swiftly.

    kindaembarrassed | Mar 1, 2010 | New Comment
  22. I’ve been taught that Northern Minnesota can experience minor seismic activity due to glacial rebound.

    Ryan Huggett | Mar 1, 2010 | New Comment
  23. All I have to say is, an earthquake in Duluth is not likely, however very possible, considering the fact that the Mississippi River is a fault line.

    All you need to do is look up the records of the the earthquake in New Madrid in the Territory of Missouri on the night of December 16, 1811.

    Celestina | Mar 2, 2010 | New Comment
  24. Duluth is going to be the safest place to be when what happens next happens.

    Lord Phosphorus | Mar 2, 2010 | New Comment
  25. I’m not so sure about that. When I was growing up, a lot of people said that Lake Superior and the hill keep Duluth safe from tornados. But whenever there’s one nearby, the TV meteorologists always point out that that is a myth. The only thing that’s kept an army of tornados from stampeding through the Twin Ports is years and years of luck.

    Barrett Chase | Mar 3, 2010 | New Comment
  26. And the spirit of Gitche Gumee.

    adam | Mar 3, 2010 | New Comment
  27. Sure, there is slight chance of tornadoes here and maybe some very small “glacial rebound” tremors but, compared to most anywhere else, if a blizzard or sub-zero temps now and then are the worst we can expect, we’re living in paradise.

    Then again, an extreme drought and fires could change everything.

    Terry G. | Mar 3, 2010 | New Comment
  28. The Great Lakes are probably a pretty high target for terrorism, considering they constitute the highest concentration of fresh water on the planet. Coupled with the status of Duluth-Superior as a major inland port, and I’m somewhat surprised we don’t see more federal security around here … or maybe we don’t see them because they don’t want to be seen.

    Zoomerang | Mar 4, 2010 | New Comment
  29. Every town I have ever lived in has residents who have said the exact same thing.

    adam | Mar 4, 2010 | New Comment
  30. @zoomerang: IF (and this is a big IF…) IF th turrorists can make it this far…

    there’s a couple thousand miles of ground and airspace to cover, both north and south of the border, and the likelihood of such an operation taking place given the logistical magnitude requisite to pull such an operation off would be astoundingly astronomical to keep off the radar…not to mention there are far more guns and gun owners betwixt here and wherever th supposed bad guys are coming from than anyplace else in the world.

    Q: “What’re you gonna do when the terrerists come for you?”

    A: laugh.

    zra | Mar 4, 2010 | New Comment
  31. sorry…likelihood…minute, at best.

    th turrurists know better than to target logistical centers like ports and military bases. too big. too risky. consumes too many resources and too much money. financial targets are so much easier, and ultimately does more damage.

    time mag recently did an article on the subject.

    zra | Mar 4, 2010 | New Comment
  32. Somehow I knew it would swerve into this topic…

    Jude | Mar 6, 2010 | New Comment

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