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People, Land & Water (Special Edition) - 100th Anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake

People, Land & Water cover image

This 36-page special edition of People, Land & Water commemorates the 1906 Earthquake, documents the birth and growth of earthquake science in the United States and demonstrates how this science is used to help safeguard communities.
(The following stories and information on this page may require Adobe Acrobat Reader.)



The 1906 Earthquake — The Birth of Earthquake Science
Photo of street after the 1906 earthquake.

A Moment of Magnitude for America and for Science (PDF - 581 k)
In December 1904, a University of California at Berkeley geology professor named Andrew Lawson wrote the following in the university's newspaper: "History and records show that earthquakes in this locality have never been of a violent nature, as so far as I can judge from the nature of recent disturbances and from accounts of past occurrences there is not occasion for alarm at present." Less than two years later, he might have considered a retraction.

Historical photo of USGS employees USGS Responds to the 1906 Earthquake (PDF - 319 k)
In 1906, the only permanent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) office in California was the Pacific Region Topographic Mapping Office in Sacramento, some 70 miles up the Sacramento River from San Francisco Bay. The office had been established just three years earlier and was the only USGS office ever created for the sole function of topographic mapping. On April 18, 1906, many of the USGS topographers were in Sacramento preparing for summer fieldwork. It was that day that the great earthquake struck.
Image of the 1906 San Francisco Call-Chronicle Examiner newspaper cover A Letter Home and a Look Back in Time (PDF - 384 k)
Firsthand accounts from survivors
Historical: collage of two photos of earthquake damage America's Shaky Past (PDF - 466 k)
The Top 18 Earthquake Events in the United States Since 1700.
collage of past and present seismic monitoring devices

Seismic Technology Evolves into the 21st Century (PDF - 156 k)
From dragonheads and toads to geophones and electronic amplifiers, seismic science has come a long way.

photo from the 1964 Alaska earthquake History of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program (PDF - 223 k)
Scientific study of earthquakes in the United States arose from three seismic events that occurred in the eastern, central,
and western parts of the country beginning in the early 1800s.


The People Who Make Earthquake Science Interesting
photo of Waverly Person

"Mr. Earthquake" Takes a Bow (PDF - 124 k)
Waverly Person retires after 51 years of service.

photo of Mary Lou Zoback Thinking Globally but Guiding the Local Message for the 1906 Centennial (PDF - 360 k)
Mary Lou Zoback guides the 1906 Earthquake commemoration.
photo of Lucy Jones Working for a Safer Southern California - A Profile of Lucy Jones (PDF - 143 k)
Lucy Jones, chief scientist of the Earthquake Hazards Program in Southern California, is truly a household name and the face of the USGS in Southern California.
photo of Ross Stein What it's Like to be an Earthquake Scientist - Talking with USGS Geophysicist Ross Stein (PDF - 157 k)
In a field where the work is critical to saving lives, earthquake scientists often operate at a dizzying pace, collaborating with partners around the world as they try to solve the many mysteries of the Earth’s processes. And just when they least expect it, they are thrown into the public spotlight, expected to respond to the fear and confusion that inevitably follow natural disasters with answers they may or may not have. It is tough, challenging work; but for most, the rewards of scientific discovery and knowing that they are giving something back to society make it all worthwhile.
photo of Susan Hough

USGS Earthquake Scientists—A Nationwide Notion of Pride (PDF - 604 k)
USGS scientists from across the country have been part of many incredible and memorable earthquake experiences. With that in mind, several of them were asked, "What has been your proudest, most exciting or most noteworthy moment in USGS earthquake science?" The answers are as different as the scientists themselves.

This Dynamic Planet pullout poster This Dynamic Planet—Special Poster Pullout (PDF - 886 k)
Special poster pullout featuring the front of the USGS map, "This Dynamic Planet."


The Present and Future of Earthquake Science
photo of people in the NEIC building looking at maps

The USGS National Earthquake Information Center (PDF - 293 k)
The USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) is responsible for the comprehensive monitoring and reporting of earthquake activity for our nation and the world.

image of a map showing the risk of significant seismic activity The Advanced National Seismic System: A Sure Bet for a Shaky Nation (PDF - 209 k)
If you were to learn that in 1886, a major U.S. city was ravaged by a magnitude-7.3 earthquake in which 60 people were killed and millions of dollars of damage done, where would you guess it had happened— Los Angeles? San Francisco? Anchorage? Try Charleston, S.C.
photo of a building damaged by an earthquake Building Safer: How Decades of Earth Science is Helping to Reduce the Biggest Earthquake Vulnerability—Man-Made Structures (PDF - 212 k)
On October 17, 1989, occupants of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco were unnerved as the building started to shake. Sixty miles away, in the forest of Nisene Marks State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Loma Prieta earthquake had struck with a magnitude of 6.9.
image of map showing Eastern U.S. earthquake damage areas Not Just a California Thing: Why Earthquakes in the Eastern and Central United States could be a Bigger Problem than You Think (PDF - 135 k)
Scientists estimate that Memphis has a 25 to 40 percent probability of a magnitude-6.0 or greater earthquake during the next 50 years.
3D geologic model of San Francisco Taking Seismic Science into the Third Dimension (PDF - 147 k)
3D Models Help Predict Shaking Vulnerability in Your Neighborhood
Photo of Phil Stoffer, USGS, giving a tour of the San Andreas Fault A Guidebook to the San Andreas: Geology Fieldtrips on the World's Most Famous Fault (PDF - 391 k)
When Philip W. Stoffer, geologist for the USGS in Menlo Park, Calif., learned he had lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph system, in 2004, he was not sure if he was going to live. The statistics for surviving were grim. He knew he had to do whatever he could to try to survive.
image showing the Did You Feel It map Did You Feel It? Citizen Science Goes Seismic (PDF - 190 k)
Have you ever been through an earthquake? Did you know that reporting your experience during an earthquake can help save lives and property during future quakes? As a result of work by USGS with the cooperation of various regional seismic networks, the world can log in on the Internet and tell USGS scientists what they felt during an earthquake.
image of a 1906 shake simulation A Profusion of Products and Events for the 1906 Earthquake Centennial (PDF - 109 k)
The U.S. Geological Survey is involved with a number of products and several events commemorating the 1906 centennial.


Other Stories
Illustration showing the disastrous 1700 tsunami.

Chain Reaction: Earthquakes that Trigger Other Natural Hazards (PDF - 150 k)
A fire destroys much of a major city. The side of a mountain collapses and then explodes. A train of waves sweeps away coastal villages over thousands of miles. All of these events are disasters that have started with or been triggered by an earthquake.

Aerial view of the San Andreas fault. Earthquake Basics: The Fundamentals and Terminology of Earthquake Science (PDF - 162 k)
An earthquake is a sudden movement of the Earth's crust caused by the abrupt release of pressure that has accumulated over a long time.
Photo of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. Taking it all in Slide — How the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Survived a Big One (PDF - 195 k)
The Nov. 3, 2002, magnitude-7.9 central Alaska earthquake was one of the largest recorded earthquakes in our nation's history.
Photo showing Waverly Person looking at a seismograph Measuring Magnitude — What Do the Numbers Mean? (PDF - 139 k)
Often two or more different magnitudes are reported for the same earthquake. Sometimes, years after an earthquake occurs, the magnitude is adjusted. Although this can cause some confusion in news reports, for the public and among scientists, there are good reasons for these adjustments.
Top 10 Top 10 Things Northern Californians Should Do to Prepare for the Next Big Earthquake (PDF - 116 k)
The people, businesses and government agencies in Northern California will risk suffering loss of life and structural and financial damage when major earthquakes strike. Scientists, engineers and emergency-management experts gathering for the 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference call on the
region’s citizens, businesses and governments to take the following actions to increase safety, reduce losses and ensure a speedier
Photo of a house destroyed by an earthquake. Forecast of Aftershock Hazard Maps Show Daily Shaking Probability (PDF - 135 k)
In the course of a day, the probability for moderate-to-strong earthquake shaking in California is between 1-in-10,000 and 1-in-100,000. That isn't very high when you consider that the average American has a one-in-2,500 chance of being in a car accident in the same period of time. However, there are times when the likelihood of experiencing earthquake shaking goes up considerably. The USGS 24-hour forecast of aftershock hazard maps show Californians when and where the risk is elevated.
Cover illustration from the Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country USGS publication. Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country: Are You Prepared for "The Big One"? (PDF - 211 k)
Earthquakes are scary because they are largely unpredictable. We don’t know exactly when, where or with how much force they are going to strike, but we do know they will strike again.


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