The Trembling Earth

now at

Category Archives: Earthquake News

The Great Utah ShakeOut – this morning 10:15am!


Today at 10:15am Mountain Daylight Time (UTC -8) tens of thousands of Utahns will Drop, Cover, and Hold On in a massive earthquake drill set to alert the state to the dangers posed by its numerous fault lines.

The Utah ShakeOut is one of many large-scale earthquake scenario exercises (drills) that take place around the country and around the world. It is sponsored by a whole host of federal agencies and corporate partners, and involves not only voluntary public participation but coordinated inter-agency exercises to simulate a post-quake response in the state.

Here’s media to play during your own ShakeOut exercise:

Scientists have calculated a number of potential earthquake scenarios for Utah, compiled here. A quake on the Salt Lake City segment of the Wasatch fault is the most destructive example, but the state is littered with earthquake faults, and so destructive earthquakes could happen anywhere.


On my way to SSA

This week I’m attending the Seismological Society of America annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. The society was founded in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, so the annual meetings generally coincide with the quake’s April 18 anniversary.


Salt Lake City’s pioneer past is still evident overlooking the Wasatch front from the Utah State Capitol

This year’s conference is held in Salt Lake City, at the foot of the gorgeous and seismically ominous Wasatch Mountains. As such the conference is nominally focused on earthquake hazards in the U.S. intermountain west. The organizers have done a marvelous job arranging events, public lectures, and coordinating with Utah’s statewide ShakeOut drill on Wednesday in order to raise public awareness of the risks posed by the Wasatch Fault.

Below are details on the two big public events, if you’re in Utah and looking for some straight-from-the-source earthquake info. I’ll report more throughout and after the week on other goings-on at the conference, including the discussion and results from my own session on what stops earthquake ruptures, and a big field trip to see the Wasatch fault and SLC’s seismic preparedness on Saturday.

Public Events
The Great Utah ShakeOut
Wednesday, April 17
Everywhere – under a table!

Town Hall Meeting
Wednesday, April 17
Downtown Radisson – Wasatch ballroom

Sunday Reading #3

Apologies for the tardiness. I suppose for some of you this is Sunday evening reading, if that’s what people even do on Sunday evenings. Maybe for those of you hunkering down in the U.S. midwest.

Here are two weeks’ worth of seismic tidbits I posted on Twitter, since the first week was a little dry. Catch up on all things quakey!

Overcompensating in L’Aquila
In oh-so-foreseeable news, Italian officials are now trigger-happy with evacuation orders in the wake of the manslaughter conviction of seismic hazard officials. Caution is good… but, this is why we have legends like the boy who cried wolf.

“Why evacuate for an earthquake no one can feel?”

A nice antidote to that painful bit of news is a call to arms about the risky state of building design in such a quake-prone region:

Man-made Earthquakes
The seismic hot-topic of the decade, human-induced earthquakes, gets a summary treatment by Popular Mechanics. The summary is good. You’ll be hearing more about this from me and all of us in the future:

“Rolling” versus “sharp” earthquakes, explained

“The Earthquake Machine”
How do you scale down faults so that you can understand their frictional and mechanical behavior in controlled tests? Popular Science has a neato infographic on the equipment used in rock mechanics tests–earthquake laboratories.

Earthquakes and Society
Christchurch residents and architectural pros alike balk at the rebuild designs for the downtown cathedral:

Nepal introduces an emergency plan for a crucial post-quake lifeline, its airport:

Exposé of an ethically questionable but increasingly common industry–disaster tourism:

Animal earthquake predictors
There has been a modest buzz this week about research on a longstanding legend of seismic phenomena. Animals have occasionally been reported to appear to foretell earthquakes, but anecdotal evidence generally fails any rigorous scientific test, and most such observations are thus dismissed as unreliable indicators of any impending quake. Researchers in Germany, however, have begun to study ants that live in colonies along fault lines. Surprising finding: their level of activity changes from a daily average before small tremors. I wouldn’t make too much of this yet, but I think it’s really cool to finally see some potential for scientific tests of a long-standing, intractable myth/puzzle about quake phenomena. Now if only we could fill all our fault lines with German Redwood ants…. I wonder if they distinguish between magnitude 2 and magnitude 7…

The news release:

The researchers’ website:

Landslide in Utah Copper Mine

Quarry collapse at the Bingham Copper Mine, Utah

Quarry collapse at the Bingham Copper Mine, Utah

A noteworthily massive collapse occurred this week at a quarry outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The event is outside of my scientific jurisdiction, but Dave Petley has been covering it with great interest, and has reported a bit about the seismic signature of this mighty landslide:

Honshu quake


A modest but substantial 5.8 tremor rattled the southern Japanese island of Honshu this week, doing a fair bit of damage on Awaji island and the densely populated area surrounding it. A collection of videos record the shaking from a few urban cameras, the second of which demonstrates the noise created by a rattling city:

YouTube user KOJI PEI posted a video showing a real-time (actually ~2 or 3x speed) animation of shaking intensity at each of Japan’s seismometers during this quake. I’m not sure where this video came from nor how specifically it was generated (it appears to be maximum acceleration averaged over a several second time window), but I’m hoping to find out and to find more like it. You can see seismic waves radiate outward from the epicenter, with the relatively gentle P-waves leading the charge, and swishy S-waves ringing outward behind them.

Seismic engineering – For your Office, Museum, or Bedroom!
Scaled down base isolators can secure servers, lab apparati, antiques etc. on specialized tables. 

The principle of base isolation is already successfully applied in buildings around the world, and this mini-version may be hugely popular with companies and museums whose equipement and specimens need to be seismically protected. One of the commenters also has some insightful things to add, including the major deficiencies in maximum displacement and vertical protection.

Big news on a big move this week – I’ll update you all shortly!

Sunday Reading #2

Here’s the second installment of my now weekly series in which I compile all the neat-o earthquake things I’ve relayed via Twitter over the prior week.

National Tsunami Week

From March 24-30, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teamed up to raise awareness of tsunami hazard, assembling a huge number of resources. Get informed about the tsunami risk to your coast line, and learn what you should do–I compiled their compilations here.

Earthquake Anniversaries

There were some notable earthquake anniversaries this past week: in 1983 a hefty jolt shook Portland–the “Spring Break quake.” In 1964, the largest earthquake in North America’s modern history, the M9.2 Good Friday earthquake, shook Anchorage for several minutes, jostling loose all kinds of landslides and faults, and sent a massive tsunami racing across the Pacific.

Fluid Injection & Induced Earthquakes

A paper was published this week documenting the striking correlation between the timing/location of damaging earthquakes and the timing/location of industrial fluid injection. Oklahoma has this problem, Arkansas has this problem, and the Netherlands has this problem.

Turkey’s Urban Renewal/Quake Retrofitting Plan Kicks In

Earlier this year, the government of Turkey initiated an urban renewal project in Istanbul that will replace deadly apartment blocks with housing built to withstand their inevitable temblor(s).
– info from Turkey’s gov’t
Earthquake Hazard for Istanbul – blog article summarizing the policy

Some are not as happy as others about this:

Seismic Engineering (failures)

The new eastern (Oakland) span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge may have had a bit of a setback this week when dozens of enormous bolts used in its seismic joints failed during seismic testing. Ooops. They’ll be fixed/replaced… but the grand opening may be pushed back. :(

Earthquake Footage

YouTube’s “EarthquakeVideoMex” compiled a few new videos of earthquake footage, one from a M6.3 in Mexico a few years ago (with some amazing standing waves in an upper story pool):

…and one from the M6.5 that jolted Taiwan earlier this week.

Earthquakes and Cheese

In potentially the most important earthquake-related development of the week, we learned how the Parmagiano-Reggiano industry recovered from a devastating earthquake that struck almost a year ago and wrecked millions of dollars worth of cheese.
The Miracle After Italy’s ‘Parmesan Quake’ – WorldCrunch news

See you next week! Or hopefully before then. Happy reading. Join in the fun and get these in real time @TTremblingEarth on Twitter!

National Tsunami Awareness Week – March 24-30, 2013

The Great Wave by Hokusai

This week the United States has been recognizing National Tsunami Week, an awareness campaign by NOAA, the USGS, FEMA, and a whole host of other emergency response agencies to ensure that the American public is aware of the tsunami hazard facing our coasts, and that we know what to do about it.

The bottom line is that we face threats on all fronts, although they’re greatest along the Pacific shore. Local megaquakes in the Pacific Northwest will one day wash torrents of water ashore in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. More frequently than that (we have two examples from this decade alone), giant quakes elsewhere around the Pacific will send tsunamis racing across the ocean to flood our shorelines and swirl around our harbors. Large quakes in the Caribbean and landslides out in the Atlantic pose a tsunami threat to our Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

Fortunately we’re familiar with this risk because we’ve seen the effects of even 1-meter-high tsunamis on our coastline:

NOAA maintains several tsunami warning centers (including Pacific and West Coast/Alaska), and we’re ever striving to improve our detection capabilities as well as inform the public.

Take the opportunity to inform yourself this week, and “be Tsunami Ready!”   There are tons of resources, listed below.

Tsunami Awareness Week from the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program:

What to do to protect yourself:

Tons of tsunami resources from California

USGS report on “Community Exposure to Tsunami Hazards” [pdf document]

NOAA’s Center for Tsunami Research has a ton of cool models and animations (their YouTube channel is chock full, at that represent the best measurements and calculations from actual tsunami events that have happened. One recently released model shows the best estimate of what happened during the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 in Alaska. The tsunami from that quake ravaged the U.S. coastline in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California and caused fatalities. Get informed! These things happen.

Sunday Reading

This is the inaugural post of a weekly series I promised to start that will supplement my more in depth but sporadic blogging about topical seismic events. A couple months ago I joined Twitter to broadcast some of the interesting seismic news snippets I come across daily, including lots of content that didn’t really warrant drawn out posts. As I promised then, I’m now compiling my full week of Tweeted links into a “weekend reading” sort of post, to let you catch up on all the earthquake news you missed as it flew by on Twitter. So here goes: a bunch of articles about earthquakes to read, and why to read them.

Earthquake Early Warning

The biggest U.S. quake news was the tremor that rattled L.A. a couple weeks ago and spawned renewed lamentations about the stagnant state of California’s earthquake early warning system. The New York Times had the most comprehensive story:

…but some local media outlets had their own lamentations to add:

To me the highlight of the New York Times piece was the imaginative explanation of what benefits early warning of an earthquake could provide:

“[Japan’s EEW system was able to] activate computerized programs to slow commuter trains so they did not go off their tracks, stop elevators so passengers were not stranded between floors, flash highway warning signs instructing motorists to slow down and avoid overpasses, and open doors at fire stations so they would not be stuck shut should power be lost.
The warning would go out to home computers and personal cellphones, giving surgeons a moment to withdraw scalpels, workers at Disneyland time to shut down Space Mountain, home cooks an opportunity to turn off the gas and everyone a moment to… dive under a desk.
If you are cooking, you can step away from the boiling water… it would help people psychologically, decreasing the surprise that can freeze people in confusion and fear when the ground starts moving, or lead to panicked and dangerous reactions, like running outside a building.”

I like the introduction of the intangible psychological benefits of reducing the paralyzing suddenness with which earthquakes set upon us.

Emergency Kits

A bunch of articles have just come out regarding earthquake survival kits.

Oregon Live asks where to put them (the answer is “everywhere… and make sure they’re accessible”).

The USA Today introduces us to some particularly dedicated preppers:

And the New Zealand Herald describes an effect I think most seismologists would be ecstatic to learn of: small tremors have a huge impact on emergency kit sales (up 300%), signaling that people really do treat the benign moderate jolts as reminders of real hazard.

Prediction vs. Mitigation

On a subject intimately related to the prior two, The Guardian published an article by Dave Petley, director of the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience at the University of Durham (and perhaps known more familiarly as the author of AGU’s Landslide Blog). Dave presents the elusive ideal of earthquake prediction through a simple and plainspoken set of thought exercises, which ultimately illustrate that prediction isn’t truly what we want. Mitigation, preparation, and a few moments warning should suffice… and may have to.

Tsunamis Galore

On the 2nd anniversary of the March 11, 2011 M9.0 Tohoku earthquake, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reminded us that twenty eight other tsunamis have struck various parts of the world since then.

Earthquakes Rock the Atmosphere

A widely circulated research result this past week was the discovery of significant signals from the Tohoku earthquake… recorded by satellite gravity measurements as pressure waves passed through the edge of the atmosphere. There’s a great animation of the data here:

That should do it for now. Tune in again next weekend, or Follow me on Twitter! @TTremblingEarth

When an unremarkable quake becomes remarkable

>9,000 southern Californians reported feeling Monday morning's temblor

>9,000 southern Californians reported feeling Monday morning’s temblor

On Monday morning this week, a wide swath of southern California–from L.A. to Needles to Calexico–was gently jolted by a modest M4.7 earthquake from the San Jacinto fault.

On most of the planet this quake would have been unremarkable, but having shaken a population exceeding 7 million people, it earned some remarks. In fact, in the 24 hour period surrounding this earthquake there were 27 of similar or larger magnitude around the world, but this one earned the attention. (That link will probably update with time… if you need convincing you can just set up a “custom data feed” for March 11, 2013.)

The screen grab below shows all M4+ earthquakes that occurred on March 11, 2013. Most of these went unnoticed. Some were felt by many, but didn’t receive the (U.S.) coverage of the SoCal tremor.

M4+ on March 11, 2013

I love seeing the bimodal reactions of southern Californians to an earthquake of this size. No doubt the unnerving sensation of the ground suddenly shuddering beneath you is frightening to many, but there seem to be just as many who could scarcely care less.

Watch as it disrupts (or doesn’t) the coverage of the nearby Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament:

Southern California news media pounced on it, looking for any harrowing story of alarm or toppled tchotchkes, but came up predictably empty handed given the light and fleeting nature of the shaking. One of the big stories was that this tremor served as a further successful natural test run of California’s nacent Early Warning system, thus far only shared among a handful of scientists while it awaits further successful tests without alarming the public.

The other interesting facet of the quake was the initial determination of its location and magnitude, which was ironically marred by having a sizeable precursory foreshock, a sizable and immediate aftershock, and great instrumental sensitivity/coverage. At the outset, seismic waves from the foreshock and aftershock, which were separated from the mainshock by 16 and 51 seconds, respectively, tricked the automated system into mislocating the source and origin time of shaking. Initially the USGS identified three earthquakes with magnitudes ranging from 4.7-5.1 that occurred within two minutes of each other. Of course to most of the populace that distinction in the wavetrain would have scarcely been discernable. It was moot anyway, because as the system and seismologists further processed additional data the true sequence of events became clear. A 2.3… 16 seconds… a 4.7… 51 seconds… a 3.0. Meanwhile the shaking from each of those was rippling outward through the L.A. region and desert, overlapping with each other in their rattling. This confusion is an interesting artifact of having a great, quickly responsive seismic network… that’s not quite dense enough to pick out the details of everything it detects right away.

Southern California’s dense seismic network allows detection of minuscule earthquakes, so there is a rich foreshock and aftershock sequence evident surrounding the mainshock hypocenter. Viewing the list of foreshocks makes me intensely curious about the nucleation process of larger earthquakes.

Foreshocks and aftershocks in the 2 days before and after Monday's quake

Foreshocks and aftershocks in the 2 days before and after Monday’s quake

The L.A. Times has a good informative piece about the quake and its regional significance as expressed by USGS scientists:

Magnitude 4.7 earthquake is Monday morning’s shake-up call – L.A. Times

By the way, “Shake-Up Call” is totally in.

February: What a month to miss!

I have finally returned and settled back into life in a quiet NorCal college town after living for a month in the bustle of Beijing, where I conducted four weeks of lab work for my dissertation project.

State Key Lab

I spent my time there working with and in the lab of colleagues at the China Earthquake Administration, a collaboration that I’ll describe in more detail in a later post. Stuck on the other side of the Great Firewall from Facebook, Twitter, and even WordPress, I missed a great deal of the global online fun during some major Earth-shaking events that happened during February. It killed me deep inside, though I had my own great time in Beijing.

I may break these events down into individual posts if I manage the time, but for now I’ll leave you with a cursory summary:

The month began with a monstrous earthquake in the South Pacific, the culmination of weeks of foreshocks in an area that has seen a years-long sequence of large and fascinating ruptures. The M8.0 quake produced a local tsunami that wiped out some villages, and was followed (and continues to be) by hundreds of sizable aftershocks. One of the most interesting aspects of earthquakes is the complex way in which fault ruptures unfold–in both space and time–and the Solomon-Vanuatu Trench has undergone a marvelous sequence.

The next big news was an “earthquake” in North Korea. The Earth did indeed quake, with the strength of a 5.1, but the seismic waves were generated by a huge atomic explosion, not the volume-preserving double-couple of tectonic slip. The CTBTO detected this detonation immediately on instruments worldwide, and, decidedly unconcerned with hiding this from anybody, North Korea quickly proclaimed their third successful nuclear bomb test.

The next rare and global seismic event was not Earth-derived at all: a surprisingly large and exceedingly rare meteor strike rocked the countryside of central Russia, and BOY was it ever captured on film. Thank goodness (or insanity, actually) for Russian dash-cams.

Who knew a meteor sounded like that?? They’ll have to remake Deep Impact. The shockwave from this extremely supersonic space rock was large enough to buffet pressure gauges on the other side of the planet, and the shockwave’s interaction with the ground excited seismic waves that also spread through the planet.

While I was in China, the south of the country had a strange spate of moderate earthquakes, at least one of which proved a successful test of their new Early Warning System. In rural parts of that country many buildings cannot withstand the shaking of even a magnitude 5 earthquake, so these were a bigger deal than they might otherwise have been given the size.

Other seismological things are happening–Christchurch is debating retrofits, for example–so I’ll just have to keep you posted. Glad to be back; you can finally expect more posts in the future!

Twitter and the 21st century earthquake

You thought seismic waves were fast… you should see Twitter! The social microblogging service increasingly serves as a communication conduit between emergency management agencies and individuals during crises. The USGS has begun to exploit Twitter, both to dispatch earthquake information and in turn to collect tweets that show an earthquake has occurred, potentially before the relatively sparse network of seismometers detects and reports it. A couple of years ago USGS scientists Paul Earle, Michelle Guy, and their colleagues reported their preliminary evaluation of a system that culls tweets containing the word “earthquake” from the vicinity of a known quake epicenter. The results were strikingly effective at highlighting the epicentral region of the quake, indicated by the largest jump in the frequency of “earthquake”-related tweets. Their article is publicly available and explains the benefits and drawbacks of a Twitter-based earthquake detection system. It’s well worth a read. OMG Earthquake! Can Twitter Improve Earthquake Response? The article contains perhaps my favorite sentence of any academic paper I’ve read:

The first geocoded tweet about the earthquake arrived 19 seconds after the origin time and reported omfg, earthquake.”

Their supplemental material makes for an entertaining read, listing 360 seconds of tweets containing “earthquake” that followed the 2009 M4.3 Morgan Hill quake in the Bay Area. Electronic Supplement to Earle et al., 2010 While thoroughly exploring the caveats of twitter quake detection such as the general lack of true shaking records, including the fact that shaking intensity is unreported or unreliable, the authors demonstrate the powerful comparison of Twitter response times to the average reporting delays of even our fastest instrumental networks. Whereas tweets are published with a lag time of ~5 seconds, official USGS earthquake solutions are only made available minutes after an earthquake. Commonly in disasters, small data transmissions via mobile devices offer the only functional way to disseminate information, since power and telephone lines may be disrupted and data-heavy voice calls may overwhelm cell networks. Many people on both coasts may have a familiar experience in mind following moderate earthquakes: even with light shaking and no damage, the excitement stirred up by a temblor results in an overloaded cell network incapable of supporting your phone calls. It can be hours before phone calls go through.

Click to access www2010.pdf

60 hours until the Not-pocalypse

This morning I woke up to this alarming warning, reminding me that the world as we know it will come to an end on Friday.

As seen on the internets.

As seen on the internets.


Fortunately my nerves have been calmed by all manner of authorities reminding me in official terms that the world is in all likelihood not going to end on Friday. Phew. Dodged a bullet there.

what could have been...

A new subway? In L.A.??

First off, the U.S. government says it’ll be okay:

Scary Rumors about the World Ending in 2012 Are Just Rumors –

The modern Maya themselves are downplaying the concerns:

Even the Maya are getting sick of the hype – MSNBC

And finally, even more authoritative sources weigh in with some informed messages, just in case you have really detailed concerns to dispel:

USGS: Will the World End on December 21? (“beliefs aside, what we know with certainty is that Earth has a tremendous capacity to generate natural disasters on any day of any year.”)

NASA: The Great 2012 Doomsday Scare (this one includes great historical examples of not-pocalypses past)

NASA and the USGS are both well versed in the doomsday phenomena that threaten our planet. Other than the changing climate, most of these natural catastrophes are local or regional doomsdays, not the end of “the world” per se, but certainly the end of the world for some. It’s encouraging to see these agencies step forward and use the hype (as silly or as serious as it may be) as an opportunity to inform and do some checking in about what we really do know can harm us and what we really do know about how to deal with it.

While you’re preparing for the fake end of the world, take a moment and make sure you know what to do if a real disaster struck your home.

%d bloggers like this: