Do we have earthquakes in New Mexico?

You bet we do! Not nearly as many or as big as some other parts of the world, but New Mexicans have felt their share of earthquakes over the years. For example:

Dr. Stuart Northrop of the University of New Mexico compiled a list of 1,111 earthquakes felt in New Mexico between 1849 and 1975. Geologists conducting studies in New Mexico have also discovered evidence of ancient earthquakes with magnitudes as large as 7.5, although it appears that these large earthquakes do not occur very often.

Seismologists Dr. Allan Sanford, Kuo-wan Lin, and I-ching Tsai of the Geophysics Program at New Mexico Tech, have produced a series of maps showing the locations of earthquakes that occurred in New Mexico and surrounding areas between 1869 and 1998. Take a look. You may be surprised by the number of earthquakes that have occurred! The dense cluster of earthquakes in the very center of the state is related to the activity of a body of magma (molten rock) about 12 miles deep within the Earth's crust. We can't see the magma body directly, but careful measurements and studies of the way seismic waves move through the Earth's crust has allowed seismologists to determine its location.

Some small earthquakes in New Mexico have been triggered by human activity. Three of the earthquakes on Dr. Northrop's list were caused by atomic bomb testing, including the explosion of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site in 1945 and subsequent underground explosions near Carlsbad in 1961 and east of Farmington in 1967. Some earthquakes in southeastern New Mexico may be related to oil and gas production, and a series of earthquakes recorded near Heron and El Vado reservoirs in northern New Mexico were apparently caused by the weight of the water in the reservoirs.

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last modified: 18 December, 2007