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Maine Earthquakes

History of Maine Earthquakes

Although European missionaries and colonists began establishing settlements in Maine in the 1600s, the first earthquake likely centered in Maine was not recorded until January 23, 1766 when a small shake was reported felt in Portland.  Through 2016 over 450 felt earthquakes are known to have been centered somewhere in Maine, with earthquake epicenters in almost all parts of the state.  The first significant earthquake in Maine occurred on May 22, 1817 when the central and eastern parts of the state were rocked by a strong shake.  This earthquake, also felt strongly in eastern New Brunswick, is thought to have been about magnitude 4.5 to 5.0 and to have been centered somewhere in the area of Passamaquoddy Bay.  Another widely felt earthquake took place on January 16, 1855.  This seismic event was felt throughout western Maine and New Hampshire, with an estimated epicenter somewhere near Otisfield, Maine and a magnitude about 5.0.  It reportedly moved objects on shelves and rang bells in the epicentral area.  On December 23, 1857, an earthquake was felt throughout southcentral Maine and caused some minor damage to plaster and a few chimneys at Lewiston.  The epicenter was probably somewhere west of Lewiston, and the magnitude of the event was about 4.5.

Map of Earthquakes of the Northeastern US and Southeastern Canada 1975 to 2017

The strongest known earthquake centered in the state of Maine occurred on March 21, 1904.  With an epicenter somewhere between Bar Harbor and Passamaquoddy Bay, this earthquake was felt from Nova Scotia to Vermont and Connecticut and had an estimated magnitude of about .5.9.  Damage to chimneys and masonry walls was reported at a number of towns in eastern Maine as well as at towns around Passamaquoddy Bay in New Brunswick.  On July 15, 1905, an earthquake of estimated magnitude 4.5 was felt from southern New Hampshire to central Maine.  The epicenter of this event is thought to have been near Sabbatus.  An earthquake of similar magnitude struck southern Maine on August 21, 1918.  The epicenter is thought to have been somewhere near Bridgeton and Norway.  Starting on February 8, 1928 with an event of magnitude about 4.5, a swarm of earthquakes was felt in central Maine at the towns of Milo and Dover-Foxcroft.  The swarm lasted several days.  Another earthquake shock of about magnitude 4.3 centered in this same area took place on January 14, 1943. On April 26, 1957, there was an earthquake of about magnitude 3.8 that was centered just east of Portland, which did some minor damage in that city and nearby towns.

Even in more recent times, Maine has experienced notable earthquakes.  On June 14, 1973, a magnitude 4.7 earthquake was centered at the Maine-New Hampshire-Quebec border region.  It caused some minor damage near its epicenter and was felt throughout all of New England and eastern New York.  On October 2, 2006, a magnitude 4.2 earthquake was centered at Bar Harbor.  This event, which was felt throughout southern and central Maine, caused several rock falls in Acadia National Park, which blocked a couple of roads and damaged some hiking trails.  On October 16, 2012, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake centered near Hollis Center was felt from Bangor to Connecticut.

Earthquakes Outside of Maine Having Notable State Impacts

Several strong earthquakes centered outside of Maine have had notable impacts in the state.  The October 29, 1727 magnitude 5.6 earthquake at Newbury, MA was felt throughout the coastal communities of Maine.  The November 18, 1755 magnitude 6.2 earthquake, which likely had an epicenter east of Cape Ann, MA, damaged chimneys along south coastal Maine from the New Hampshire border to Portland.  Strong earthquakes in the Charlevoix seismic zone in Quebec on October 17, 1860 (magnitude 6.0), October 20, 1870 (magnitude 5.9) and March 1, 1925 (magnitude 6.2) cracked some plaster and chimneys in the northern part of the state, and all three events were felt throughout Maine.  On October 22, 1869, a strong earthquake with a magnitude about 5.9 centered in New Brunswick was felt strongly throughout the state of Maine.  The November 18, 1929 magnitude 7.2 earthquake that was centered south of Newfoundland and that caused a damaging tsunami there was also felt throughout Maine.  A magnitude 5.8 earthquake on January 9, 1982 from central New Brunswick caused some minor damage in towns in northeastern Maine, and a magnitude 5.9 earthquake on November 25, 1988 centered north of Quebec City caused very minor damage in northernmost Maine.  Both of these earthquakes were felt throughout the state.

Maine Information and Links

Prepared in Consultation with Professor John E. Ebel PhD. Boston College, Weston Observatory