2019 Bluffdale Earthquake Sequence FAQ

How many earthquakes have we had in the Bluffdale area?
The University of Utah Seismograph Stations (UUSS) has located 160 earthquakes that occurred in the Bluffdale, Utah, area from February 13 until 10:00 am MST on March 5 (Figure 1).  The largest of these earthquakes was the magnitude (M) 3.7 mainshock that occurred at 5:09 am MST on Friday, February 15.  Of the remaining 159 earthquakes, 13 occurred before the M 3.7 and, in retrospect, are considered to be foreshocks.  The largest foreshock, and the only one larger than M 2.0, was an M 3.2 event that occurred seven minutes before the mainshock.   146 of the earthquakes are aftershocks.  The largest aftershock was an M 3.1 event that occurred on Saturday, February 23, at 2:31 am MST.  There have been seven aftershocks of M 2.0 and larger, including the M 3.1.

Was the M 4.0 earthquake that occurred on Wednesday, February 20, near the town of Kanosh in Central Utah related to the recent Bluffdale earthquakes?
No, the February 20 M 4.0 earthquake in central Utah is not related to the Bluffdale earthquakes.  The distance between these areas of recent earthquake activity is more than 120 miles.  The M 3.7 Bluffdale mainshock was too small to trigger other earthquakes at such a large distance.

Are these earthquakes occurring on the Wasatch Fault?
Within the uncertainties in the data, it is possible that the Bluffdale earthquakes are occurring on the nearby Wasatch fault (Figure 3). However, it is also possible that they are occurring on a minor, unnamed fault. It is generally difficult to know for sure which fault an earthquake is on, due to uncertainties in the locations of both faults and earthquakes below the ground surface.  The main exceptions are when an earthquake is large enough for the fault displacement that caused the earthquake to break the ground surface and create a fault scarp.  In Utah, an earthquake usually needs to be larger than M 6.0-6.5 for a surface break to occur.

Do these small earthquakes make a big one less likely?
No, small earthquakes do not relieve enough stress buildup in the earth to reduce the likelihood of a large earthquake. In fact, every earthquake that occurs has a small, roughly one-in twenty, chance of being a foreshock to a larger earthquake within five days.  A “Larger” earthquake means any earthquake bigger than the one that just occurred, even if it is only 0.1 magnitude units bigger.  The probability of an earthquake being a foreshock to an earthquake that is one or two magnitude units larger is much smaller than one-in-twenty.

Are the recent Blufdale earthquakes unusual?
No, not in the context of statewide earthquake activity.  Small earthquakes occur every day in Utah, although most of them are too small or too far from population centers to be felt.  On the average, the Utah region has one M ≥ 4.0 earthquake per year and one M ≥ 3.0 earthquake per month, not counting foreshocks and aftershocks.  The 2019 Bluffdale earthquakes are within an east-west trending band of seismicity across the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley that has had earthquakes off and on since at least 1971, including events of M 4.1 in 1992 and M 3.2 in 2016 (Figure 3).  The recent earthquakes near Bluffdale serve as a reminder that Utah is earthquake country and a large, damaging earthquake could occur at any time. Therefore, everyone living in Utah should strive to be prepared for large earthquakes.

What can I do to be prepared?
An excellent source of information on earthquake preparedness is the publication “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country”.

Earthquake database for Utah Geological Survey Map 277: Utah earthquakes (1850–2016) and Quaternary faults: Utah Geological Survey Open-File Report 667

The Utah Geological Survey (UGS), University of Utah Seismograph Stations (UUSS), and Utah Division of Emergency Management (UDEM) recently published the Utah Earthquakes (1850–2016) and Quaternary Fault Map (UGS Map 277). The new map shows earthquakes within and surrounding Utah from 1850 to 2016, and faults considered to be sources of large earthquakes.

Utah Earthquakes (1850-2016) and Quaternary Faults

 

The faults shown on the map are considered geologically active, have been sources of large earthquakes (about magnitude 6.5 and greater) during the Quaternary Period (past 2.6 million years), and are the most likely sources of large earthquakes in the future. Most of the small to moderate-sized earthquakes on the map are “background” earthquakes not readily associated with known faults and too small to have triggered surface faulting (under about magnitude 6.5).

 

There is a 57% probability (over 1 in 2 chance) that a magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake will occur in the Wasatch Front region in the next 50 years. To address this threat, the Utah Earthquake Program, consisting of the UGS, UUSS, and the UDEM, developed the map so the public could more fully understand the hazard from earthquakes and faults, as well as the resulting risk to property, infrastructure, and life safety in Utah. Users of the map will be able to determine past earthquake locations and relative magnitudes (size), along with the locations of active faults and the timing of their most recent movement.

 

Printed copies of the map are available for $15 at the Utah Department of Natural Resources Map & Bookstore. The map is also available as a PDF download at https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/maps/m-277.pdf (44 by 62 inches in size) and can be printed on a wide-format printer.

The database for the seismicity plotted on the map, together with explanatory information, is provided in a companion report:
Arabasz, W. J., Burlacu, R., and Pechmann, J. C., 2017, Earthquake database for Utah Geological Survey Map 277: Utah earthquakes (1850–2016) and Quaternary faults: Utah Geological Survey Open-File Report 667, 12 p. plus 4 electronic supplements, available as a PDF download.
The electronic supplements include the data for the seismic events plotted on the map, which are listed in two separate catalogs, each in the form of a Microsoft Excel workbook and an ArcGIS feature class within a file geodatabase. The catalog files are available for download.

Scenario for a Magnitude 7.0 Earthquake on the Wasatch Fault–Salt Lake City Segment: Hazards and Loss Estimates

Pankow, K., W. J. Arabasz, R. Carey, G. Christenson, J. Groeneveld, B. Maxfield, P. W. McDonough, B. Welliver,
Segment: Hazards and Loss Estimates, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Utah Chapter, 53 p.

3-D simulations of M 7 earthquakes on the Wasatch fault, Utah, Part II: Broadband (0-10 Hz) ground motions and nonlinear soil behavior

Roten, D., K.B. Olsen, and J.C. Pechmann (2012).3-D simulations of M 7 earthquakes on the Wasatch fault, Utah, Part II: Broadband (0-10 Hz) ground motions and nonlinear soil behavior, Bull. Seism. Soc. Am. 102, 2008-2030. ELECTRONIC SUPPLEMENT

3-D simulations of M 7 earthquakes on the Wasatch fault, Utah, Part I: Long-period (0-1 Hz) ground motions

Roten, D., K.B. Olsen, J.C. Pechmann, V.M. Cruz-Atienza, and H. Magistrale (2011). 3-D simulations of M 7 earthquakes on the Wasatch fault, Utah, Part I: Long-period (0-1 Hz) ground motions, Bull. Seism. Soc. Am. 101, 2045-2063 [correction to the author list added in 102, 453]. ELECTRONIC SUPPLEMENT