An odd phenomenon may explain why the Southeastern United States has experienced recent earthquakes, even though the region sits snugly in the middle of a tectonic plate and not at the edges, where all the ground-shaking action usually happens. This seismicity — or relatively frequent earthquakes — may be the result of areas along the bottom of the North American tectonic plate peeling off, the researchers said.

And this peeling motion is likely to continue, leading to more earthquakes in the future, like the 2011 magnitude-5.8 temblor that shook the nation’s capital. To figure out the cause of these earthquakes, Berk Biryol, a seismologist at UNC Chapel Hill, and colleagues created 3D images of the uppermost part of Earth’s mantle, which is just below the crust and comprises the bottom of a tectonic plate. These tectonic plates scoot around atop a layer of warm, viscous fluid called the asthenosphere. READ MORE