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New England’s Earthquakes Recorded in Mud

An 18th-century woodcut from a religious tract
The 1755 Cape Ann earthquake shook Boston for over a minute

New England isn’t exactly a major earthquake hotspot, but we do get small earthquakes every year. A magnitude 2.7 rattled New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts in mid-February just this year.

But in 1755 a much larger quake struck the area. It was known as the Cape Ann earthquake and is estimated to be between a 6 and a 6.3 on the Richter scale. It damaged buildings in Boston and was felt as far away as South Carolina.


One account from Massachusetts written at the time says, “The bed, on which I lay, was now tossed from side to side; the whole house was prodigiously agitated; the windows rattled, the beams cracked, as if all would presently be shaken to pieces.”


Now, researchers say they’ve found evidence of that earthquake at the bottom of Sluice Pond in Lynn.


Katrin Monecke is Assistant Professor of Geosciences at Wellesley College and the lead author of that study. She says she hopes the technique will be used to find evidence of other earthquakes in lake-bottom sediment.


As for whether we’re due for another beam-cracking earthquake soon? Not likely.


The frequency of such quakes is, “probably in the order of many centuries to maybe a few millennia,” she said.


Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.