USF researchers uncover origin of 2014 earthquake felt in Florida

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POTSDAM, GERMANY – JANUARY 13: Mathias Hoffmann of the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) – Helmholtz Centre Potsdam monitors the own developed GEOFON software, an earthquake alert system, based on a virtual seismic network, GEOFON Extended Virtual Network (GEVN) with 600 stations worldwide, on January 13, 2010 in Potsdam, Germany. The GFZ Potsdam maintains various instrument pools for use in the field and global measurement work. A key component is GFZ’s modular earth science infrastructure, with satellites, airborne systems, permanent and mobile instrument networks, observatories, drilling equipment, as well as analytical and experimental facilities. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla (WFLA) – New research from University of South Florida seismologists has determined the cause of a 2014 earthquake felt across Florida.

On Jan. 9, 2014 a magnitude 5.1 earthquake rocked northern Cuba.

When University of South Florida seismologist Jochen Braunmiller, a research assistant professor in the School of Geosciences and the study’s lead author, began hearing reports of Floridians feeling the quake, he became intrigued.

“Reports of earthquakes being felt in Florida are very rare as are earthquakes originating in northern Cuba,” Braunmiller said. “Most earthquakes in Cuba originate in the southern coast because that’s where the plate boundaries are located.”

The 2014 earthquake, however, was less than 400 miles away from Florida’s southernmost point.

Using seismological data, Braunmiller, along with his co-authors, uncovered the unique origin of the earthquake and what caused it.

Published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Braunmiller’s research shows the cause of the earthquake as a rupture in part of the Bahamas-Cuba suture zone, an area that sits more than 300 miles north of where earthquakes typically occur.

North American and Caribbean plates collided millions of years ago and in time, the plates overlapped and fused together, forming the suture. The zone remains weaker than its surroundings and is more susceptible to rupture.

While Braunmiller says there is no real way to predict when another earthquake stemming from northern Cuba will occur, he says Floridians don’t have much to worry about.

“Those particular stressors are building up very slowly. We’re talking tens of thousands of years,” Braunmiller said. “So in terms of earthquakes in Florida, it’s possible there will be another one felt in Florida, but not likely in our time.”

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