Why we're closer to understanding earthquakes in Alaska
There’s a big science experiment going on in Alaska. In fact, it’s one of the most important on earth according to Popular Science Magazine, and it’s revolutionizing the way scientists can read earthquakes.
Right now, there is a whole team of them in Alaska installing tiny devices every 50 square miles, across the state.
“This is the most challenging project I’ve ever seen. It’s like flying an ultralight experimental craft,” Mike Lundgren told KTVA last summer as he practiced drilling in a gravel pit outside Eagle River.
The drill is like a giant telescope that’s helping scientists peer deep into Alaska’s core. It’s a tenth the weight of its counterpart, specially built to fly by helicopter and transported to Alaska’s harshest and most remote locations.
It’s not easy work, but the technology will let us see earthquakes like never before.
First, EarthScope crews put seismometers all over the Lower 48. They saved Alaska, the state with the eight strongest earthquakes in history, for last. This is the third summer crews have been in our state, and by the end of this season hope to have all 238 installed.
The Alaska portion of EarthScope costs $50 million. It’s funded by the National Science Foundation.
“The red symbols on this map are all the stations we’ve installed since 2014. The other symbols we’re planning on installing through the end of this year,” says Max Enders of EarthScope, as he points to the hard work he’s put in the last few years.
Enders gave us a look at the Transportable Array Seismic Stations that were also specially designed for Alaska. It’s a self-sufficient information gathering beacon that works everywhere from the top of a mountain in Hardscrabble Creek in Katmai National Park to Edge Creek in northern Wrangell St. Elias National Park.
“This is transported entirely as set up right now in one helicopter sling so it’s a very efficient method of installing a station,” says Enders.
Nearly 200 of the stations are already online and giving scientists real-time data about what the ground is doing underneath them.
“We are definitely geeking out on a large quantity of data right now,” said Mike West, who runs the Alaska Earthquake Center.
When a quake hits, he can tell you how big it was, and where it happened. West hopes eventually, he’ll understand why and maybe even predict earthquakes before they happen.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say that EarthScope is a once in a generation change in our abilities to monitor and view what’s happening all over the state.”
You can watch the program in action. Online, there’s data from every EarthScope station in the state. Western Alaska and the North Slope just came online, and they’re already giving scientists valuable data.
“In places where we couldn’t see earthquake seismic activity, landslides, you name it-- all of the sudden that stuff is coming loud and clear now,” said West.
The more seismometers, the more in focus the underground telescope gets. One day, perhaps, presenting a clear picture and understanding of the next big quake.