Global GIS Lesson: Investigation Overview

Exploring North American Earthquakes

By Joseph J. Kerski


The U.S. Geological Survey was created in 1879 to help understand the geologic, biologic, hydrologic, and geographic characteristics and phenomena of the planet. Included in this mission is a thorough understanding of earthquakes. To help assess where and why earthquakes occur in North America, the U.S. Geological Survey has hired you as an earth systems scientist to provide them a report that will include the distribution, frequency, and causes of earthquakes in North America, specific regions of the continent, and the state where you attend school. Included in the report must be an analysis of the depth and magnitude of the earthquakes, and the locations and characteristics of cities, volcanoes, and faults in relationship to earthquakes.

As noted above, earthquakes cause millions of dollars of property and critical infrastructure damage each year. "Critical infrastructure" refers to large-scale systems that local, regional, and national governments build across the landscape. These include roads, airport runways, powerlines, gas pipelines, water pipelines, sewer lines, railroads, fiber optic cable, broadband Internet lines, telephone lines, shipping docks, power stations, radio and television transmission towers, and canals.

List three kinds of critical infrastructure that could be destroyed or damaged during an earthquake. For each, describe why the destruction of these infrastructure resources is so disruptive to local, regional, and national government and commerce.