When Earthquakes Strike, Some Seismologists Turn to USGS Data

Seismic display at Carnegie Science Broad Branch campus the day of the earthquake
The seismic display on the Carnegie Science Broad Branch Road campus during the 7.7 magnitude earthquake showed live seismic data from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program.
Thursday, January 30, 2020 

At 2:10 PM on January 28, 2020, a massive 7.7 earthquake occurred at a strike-slip fault along the boundary of the North American Plate and the Caribbean plate. The quake occurred in the Caribbean Sea, 77.7 miles north of Lucea, Jamaica.  People reported feeling tremors as far away as Florida.

When Diana Roman, a Carnegie Science staff scientist and seismologist, looked at the initial U.S. Geological Survey report, she was relieved. Roman explained, “Almost immediately, we were able to see that it was a type of event [strike-slip] that we don’t associate with tsunamis. So that was the first good sign.”

During the quake, buildings swayed, pools sloshed, sinkholes opened, and offices in Miami and Jamaica were evacuated. Yet overall, no lives have been reported lost, and the earthquake itself did very little damage, especially when compared to the 7.0 magnitude Haiti quake that devastated the island in 2010. (Note: Very little data is coming out of Cuba, so we don’t know the true extent of the earthquake’s impact there.)

When an event like this occurs, governments, businesses, and individuals need to know how to respond effectively. To get an initial report, Roman turns to the USGS global seismic data to get a sense of what’s happening—and what is going to happen—when an earthquake occurs. From tsunami alerts to aftershocks, the data provides up-to-date information about the quake and provides automated predictions of things like how intense the shaking will be and the peak ground acceleration. 

Roman explains, “What’s amazing is that we get these government agencies reporting critical information like location, magnitude, and tsunami warnings almost instantaneously and in a way that’s accessible to everyone.” 


View the USGS Latest Earthquakes Map and List to view the data yourself.