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Whose fault? Why there are earthquakes happening in Lake County

Lake Erie
Posted at 10:07 AM, Feb 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-09 11:27:14-05

CLEVELAND — Northeast Ohio is home to a kitchen sink of weather events—from severe snowstorms that dump a foot of snow to ice jams that pile up mounds of ice along our rivers, tornadoes and headline dominating earthquakes, which have totaled seven in 2022, with a possibility that more will occur, according to a Case Western Reserve University professor.

There’s a reason the earthquakes have all occurred in Lake County, near the cities of Eastlake and Timberlake.

“We’re here in the middle of what's known as a tectonic plate here in Northeast Ohio. The edges of our plates are out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and over in California and Washington state. So earthquakes are much less common in this part of the country than elsewhere. The earthquakes that we would be having here, they tend to be happening on faults, discontinuities, plains in the crust where they were broken in the past,” said Steven Hauck, a professor of planetary geodynamics at Case Western Reserve University.

These plains and faults in Northeast Ohio are ancient ones that formed a billion years ago and are now covered in sediments from glaciers that were present in the area about 10,000 years ago.

“There are small movements, possibly from the Earth, starting to rise back up after the last time an ice sheet was here," he said. "Those are still slight movements that over time build up stress and overcome the friction on those faults.”

Because earthquakes in Northeast Ohio are so rare, Hauck said it’s hard to predict if there will be more earthquakes to follow the ones the United States Geological Survey recorded in January and early February.

“It possible we could continue to see some more quakes in response to sort of the movement after that earthquake that happened about a year and a half ago," Hauck said.

When the earthquakes do happen, they happen deep under Lake Erie, about a mile or so beneath the surface of the Earth. While the movements that happen near the surface are small, they are large enough to be felt.

There’s no reason to panic, Hauck says, as the earthquakes that happen in Lake County typically measure in between 1 to 2 magnitude range.

"They feel almost like maybe a big truck driving,” he said when an earthquake is on the 1 to 2 scale range.

An earthquake that reaches the 4 magnitude range, like one that was recorded in 2019 in Lake County, tends to result in more noticeable effects, like shaking.

"Those are ones that can be felt a little more, a little bit of shaking. We might see a light chandelier is doing a little bit of shaking like this, but not even quite up to where we might have things falling off of shelves. We've got to get up at another level before we start to see something like that, and those are pretty rare,” he said.

As for the future numbers of more earthquakes, Hauck said there are no warning signs that we could get a large earthquake 5 or 10 years down the road.

“Unfortunately, earthquakes are not something we can predict. We look for when we're trying to understand whether areas that we live in are at seismic risk. We're tending to look at the history of earthquakes in the history of the magnitude of those earthquakes, to get a sense of those as opposed to being able to predict has happens," he said.

RELATED: United States Geological Survey reports 2.4 magnitude earthquake in Lake Erie, 7th quake this year

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