A series of earthquakes shake WNC

UNCA lecturer Dr. Casey King shares a theory as to why the earthquakes are happening.

Mountains in the distance that look blue, with two close up leafy plants in front.

Evidence of earthquakes can be seen in fault lines throughout the Appalachian Mountains.

Photo by @gvl.girl

Table of Contents

Within the past 30 days, eight earthquakes have shaken the West Canton area. Although all of these instances have been minor, our neck of the woods is considered a medium hazard zone for seismic activity. But what exactly does that mean? We’ll take a crack at it.

First things first

An earthquake occurs when pieces of the Earth’s outermost layer slip on a fracture between two blocks of rock, causing the ground to shake.

Going deeper

The area experiences frequent small earthquakes despite not being situated on an active tectonic boundary. So why do they occur? Dr. Casey King, a lecturer of Environmental Studies at UNC Asheville, shares that the answer isn’t so simple.

Asheville rests on the edge of the Eastern Tennessee Fault Zone, which stretches from northeastern Alabama to southeastern Kentucky. Within this region, the major faults follow the direction of the Appalachian Mountains.

“The earthquakes that we see kind of line up with some ancient faulting in the basement rock,” Dr. King shares. “We know that they’re from different mountain-building events that made the Appalachian Mountains over the past billion years or so.” However, these ancient faults are now inactive. So what could be a cause of Canton’s shallow earthquakes? Erosion.

Heavy buildup of rocks on top of the lower crust can cause the Earth underneath to bend and warp. “And usually, when you get a break, it does take advantage of old weaknesses along old faults below the surface,” adds Dr. King.

Staying safe

Although the seismic activity in our area is minor and rarely causes damage, it’s important to know how to stay safe during an earthquake.

  • If you’re inside, stay inside. Get under a desk or table to protect your head and neck from falling objects.
  • If you’re outside, find an open space away from anything that might fall on you.
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