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Geologic hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, and sinkholes cause millions of dollars in losses in Kentucky each year. The level and type of geologic hazards vary across the state, depending on the geology, topography, and hydrology. For a map of these hazards, see Geologic Hazards in Kentucky (23Mb).

Although there has not been a major earthquake affecting Kentucky for nearly 200 years, a repeat of the 1811-12 New Madrid earthquakes could cause significant property damage and loss of life. A moderate earthquake (magnitude 5.2) near Sharpsburg in northeastern Kentucky caused about $3 million in damage in Maysville. A large landslide in Hickman in western Kentucky destroyed many houses, and more than $10 million has been spent to try to fix it. About $1 million has been spent to repair damage caused by landslides on the Audubon Parkway between Owensboro and Henderson.

As our existing infrastructure begins to age, the expanding economy and population are forcing new development and construction in locations that are more prone to geologic hazards. KGS is striving to provide better information on geologic hazards in Kentucky, through technical research and assistance, as well as public education and awareness.


Research assistantships are available for students pursuing graduate degrees in geological sciences through the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (https://ees.as.uky.edu/grad). For more information, please contact Dr. Zhenming Wang.

The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12 were the largest earthquakes ever recorded in the eastern United States. Read more

Earthquakes Affecting Kentucky

Kentucky is affected by earthquakes from several seismic zones in and around the state. For a summary of the seismic hazard presented by these zones, mitigating the hazard, and preparing for it, see Earthquakes in Kentucky: Hazards, mitigation, and emergency preparedness

The most important seismic zone is the New Madrid Seismic Zone, in which at least three great earthquakes, each estimated to have been greater in magnitude than 8, occurred from December 1811 to February 1812. Though the state was sparsely settled, these great earthquakes affected the whole commonwealth of Kentucky. The following quotes are taken from newspaper articles published after the December 16, 1811, quake:

"About two o'clock on Sunday night was felt in this place a violent shock of an earthquake. It continued for several minutes and produced a considerable vibration of houses. Some bricks are said to have fell from the top of the court house chimney"

The American Republic, Frankfort, Ky.

"A severe shock of an earthquake was felt at this place on the 16th inst. At half past 2 o'clock, A.M. —many chimneys were cracked by the motion; —and at sun-rise another shock threw down most of the chimneys so injured." The Weekly Register-Chronicle, Washington, D.C.

"About half after two o'clock, yesterday morning, a severe shock of an earthquake was felt at this place: the earth vibrated two or three times in a second, which continued for several minutes, and so great was the shaking that the windows were agitated equal to what they would have been in a hard gust of wind" Kentucky Gazette, Lexington, Ky.

"On Monday morning the 16th instant, this place was visited by a most alarming Earthquake. … We are induced to believe, the continuation was from 4 to 6 minutes, though some say it was not so long; — about an hour afterwards, another shock was felt; and a little after sunrise, a third, which broke off several chimneys, and injured some houses otherwise" Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, Philadelphia, Pa., about the earthquake in Louisville

The map below shows the distribution of modified Mercalli intensity for the first event of the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes:

Also, an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale occurred in 1980 near Sharpsburg in Bath County and caused an estimated $3 million in damage; 269 homes and 37 businesses in nearby Maysville were damaged.

Thus, earthquakes pose high seismic hazards and risk to the commonwealth of Kentucky. A preliminary estimate by the Federal Emergency Management Agency of annual earthquake loss in Kentucky is about $18.7 million.

Last Modified on 2017-11-01
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