The only active earthquake fault in Kentucky

Anita Durairaj

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Reelfoot riftDiagram by USGS; Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain Image

There have been many faults that have been mapped in Kentucky but only one is known to be active.

The Reelfoot Fault is the only active fault in Kentucky and it is found in western Kentucky. It is a large fault that runs from the northwest to the southeast within the Reelfoot Rift. The Reelfoot Rift is an ancient rift zone that was formed 500 million years ago when geologic forces pulled the region in a specific direction.

The Reelfoot Fault is a part of the New Madrid Seismic Zone which is a major source of earthquakes in the Southern and Midwestern states. The fault crosses under the Mississippi River south of Kentucky Bend.

The Reelfoot Fault is responsible for the 1812 New Madrid Earthquake. During the earthquake, there was uplift along the fault that created temporary waterfalls and waves that caused the formation of Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee.

Scientists have discovered geologic cracks on the Reelfoot Fault. These cracks are a result of the strong shaking in past earthquakes of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The shaking from the 1812 New Madrid Earthquake was so strong that it was 1.4g to 1.5g (1.4 to 1.5 times the force of gravity) and could have caused the geologic cracks.

Scientists recommend that houses and other buildings should not be built near an active fault. While Kentucky does face earthquake hazards, it is important to note that the risk of a large earthquake is much lower than other natural hazards such as flooding, blizzards, and tornados.

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