From University or Oregon via EarthSky: “A big earthquake in the US Pacific Northwest?”

From University or Oregon

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EarthSky

August 5, 2019
Miles Bodmer, University of Oregon
Doug Toomey, University of Oregon

Most people don’t associate the US Pacific Northwest with earthquakes, but maybe they should. It’s home to the 600-mile (1,000-km) Cascadia megathrust fault, stretching from northern California to Canada’s Vancouver Island.

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Data derived from NaturalEarthData.com, 10m datasets. Projected into NAD83 UTM 9N. Alicia.iverson

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This is the USGS’ scenario ShakeMap for a M9 shock on the Casdadia Subduction Zone. This is not a real event.
23 December 2016
Source Earthquakes Shakemap usCasc9.0_se
Author United States Geological Survey

The Pacific Northwest is known for many things – its beer, its music, its mythical large-footed creatures. Most people don’t associate it with earthquakes, but they should. It’s home to the Cascadia megathrust fault that runs 600 miles (966 km) from Northern California up to Vancouver Island in Canada, spanning several major metropolitan areas including Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

This geologic fault has been relatively quiet in recent memory. There haven’t been many widely felt quakes along the Cascadia megathrust, certainly nothing that would rival a catastrophic event like the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake along the active San Andreas in California. That doesn’t mean it will stay quiet, though. Scientists know it has the potential for large earthquakes – as big as magnitude 9.

Geophysicists have known for over a decade that not all portions of the Cascadia megathrust fault behave the same. The northern and southern sections are much more seismically active than the central section – with frequent small earthquakes and ground deformations that residents don’t often notice. But why do these variations exist and what gives rise to them?

Our research tries to answer these questions by constructing images of what’s happening deep within the Earth [Geophysical Research Letters Research], more than 90 miles (144 km) below the fault. We’ve identified regions that are rising up beneath these active sections which we think are leading to the observable differences along the Cascadia fault.

Cascadia and the ‘Really Big One’

The Cascadia subduction zone is a region where two tectonic plates are colliding. The Juan de Fuca, a small oceanic plate, is being driven under the North American plate, atop which the continental U.S. sits.

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The Juan de Fuca plate meets the North American plate beneath the Cascadia fault. Image via USGS.

Subduction systems – where one tectonic plate slides over another – are capable of producing the world’s largest known earthquakes. A prime example is the 2011 Tohoku earthquake that rocked Japan.

Cascadia is seismically very quiet compared to other subduction zones – but it’s not completely inactive. Research indicates the fault ruptured in a magnitude 9.0 event in 1700. That’s roughly 30 times more powerful than the largest predicted San Andreas earthquake. Researchers suggest that we are within the roughly 300- to 500-year window during which another large Cascadia event may occur.

Many smaller undamaging and unfelt events take place in northern and southern Cascadia every year. However, in central Cascadia, underlying most of Oregon, there is very little seismicity. Why would the same fault behave differently in different regions?

Over the last decade, scientists have made several additional observations that highlight variations along the fault.

One has to do with plate locking, which tells us where stress is accumulating along the fault. If the tectonic plates are locked – that is, really stuck together and unable to move past each other – stress builds. Eventually that stress can be released rapidly as an earthquake, with the magnitude depending on how large the patch of fault that ruptures is.

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A GPS geosensor in Washington. Image via Bdelisle.

Geologists have recently been able to deploy hundreds of GPS monitors across Cascadia to record the subtle ground deformations that result from the plates’ inability to slide past each other. Just like historic seismicity, plate locking is more common in the northern and southern parts of Cascadia.

Geologists are also now able to observe difficult-to-detect seismic rumblings known as tremor. These events occur over the time span of several minutes up to weeks, taking much longer than a typical earthquake. They don’t cause large ground motions even though they can release significant amounts of energy. Researchers have only discovered these signals in the last 15 years, but permanent seismic stations have helped build a robust catalog of events. Tremor, too, seems to be more concentrated along the northern and southern parts of the fault.

What would cause this situation, with the area beneath Oregon relatively less active by all these measures? To explain we had to look deep, over 100 kilometers (60 miles) below the surface, into the Earth’s mantle.

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Green dots and blue triangles show locations of seismic monitoring stations. Image via Bodmer et al., 2018, Geophysical Research Letters.

Imaging the Earth using distant quakes

Physicians use electromagnetic waves to “see” internal structures like bones without needing to open up a human patient to view them directly. Geologists image the Earth in much the same way. Instead of X-rays, we use seismic energy radiating out from distant magnitude 6.0-plus earthquakes to help us “see” features we physically just can’t get to. This energy travels like sound waves through the structures of the Earth. When rock is hotter or partially molten by even a tiny amount, seismic waves slow down. By measuring the arrival times of seismic waves, we create 3-D images showing how fast or slow the seismic waves travel through specific parts of the Earth.

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Ocean bottom seismometers waiting to be deployed during the Cascadia Initiative. Image via Emilie Hooft.

To see these signals, we need records from seismic monitoring stations. More sensors provide better resolution and a clearer image – but gathering more data can be problematic when half the area you’re interested in is underwater. To address this challenge, we were part of a team of scientists that deployed hundreds of seismometers on the ocean floor off the western U.S. over the span of four years, starting in 2011. This experiment, the Cascadia Initiative, was the first ever to cover an entire tectonic plate with instruments at a spacing of roughly 30 miles (50 km).

What we found are two anomalous regions beneath the fault where seismic waves travel slower than expected. These anomalies are large, about 90 miles (150 km) in diameter, and show up beneath the northern and southern sections of the fault. Remember, that’s where researchers have already observed increased activity: the seismicity. Interestingly, the anomalies are not present beneath the central part of the fault, under Oregon, where we see a decrease in activity.

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Regions where seismic waves moved more slowly, on average, are redder, while the areas where they moved more quickly are bluer. The slower anomalous areas 90 miles (150 km) beneath the Earth’s surface corresponded to where the colliding plates are more locked and where tremor is more common. Image via Bodmer et al., 2018, Geophysical Research Letters.

So what exactly are these anomalies?

The tectonic plates float on the Earth’s rocky mantle layer. Where the mantle is slowly rising over millions of years, the rock decompresses. Since it’s at such high temperatures, nearly 1500 degrees Celsius (2700 F) at 100 km (60 mi) depth, it can melt ever so slightly.

These physical changes cause the anomalous regions to be more buoyant – melted hot rock is less dense than solid cooler rock. It’s this buoyancy that we believe is affecting how the fault above behaves. The hot, partially molten region pushes upwards on what’s above, similar to how a helium balloon might rise up against a sheet draped over it. We believe this increases the forces between the two plates, causing them to be more strongly coupled and thus more fully locked.

A general prediction for where, but not when

Our results provide new insights into how this subduction zone, and possibly others, behaves over geologic time frames of millions of years. Unfortunately our results can’t predict when the next large Cascadia megathrust earthquake will occur. This will require more research and dense active monitoring of the subduction zone, both onshore and offshore, using seismic and GPS-like stations to capture short-term phenomena.

Our work does suggest that a large event is more likely to start in either the northern or southern sections of the fault, where the plates are more fully locked, and gives a possible reason for why that may be the case.

It remains important for the public and policymakers to stay informed about the potential risk involved in cohabiting with a subduction zone fault and to support programs such as Earthquake Early Warning that seek to expand our monitoring capabilities and mitigate loss in the event of a large rupture.

See the full article here .

Earthquake Alert

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Earthquake Alert

Earthquake Network projectEarthquake Network is a research project which aims at developing and maintaining a crowdsourced smartphone-based earthquake warning system at a global level. Smartphones made available by the population are used to detect the earthquake waves using the on-board accelerometers. When an earthquake is detected, an earthquake warning is issued in order to alert the population not yet reached by the damaging waves of the earthquake.

The project started on January 1, 2013 with the release of the homonymous Android application Earthquake Network. The author of the research project and developer of the smartphone application is Francesco Finazzi of the University of Bergamo, Italy.

Get the app in the Google Play store.

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Smartphone network spatial distribution (green and red dots) on December 4, 2015

Meet The Quake-Catcher Network

QCN bloc

Quake-Catcher Network

The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
QCN Quake Catcher Network map

ShakeAlert: An Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast of the United States

The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018.

Watch a video describing how ShakeAlert works in English or Spanish.

The primary project partners include:

United States Geological Survey
California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
California Geological Survey
California Institute of Technology
University of California Berkeley
University of Washington
University of Oregon
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The Earthquake Threat

Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

Part of the Solution

Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

System Goal

The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

Current Status

The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California joined by Oregon and Washington in April 2017. This West Coast-wide “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.

Authorities

The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

For More Information

Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach
rdegroot@usgs.gov
626-583-7225

Learn more about EEW Research

ShakeAlert Fact Sheet

ShakeAlert Implementation Plan

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

The University of Oregon (also referred to as UO, U of O or Oregon) is a public flagship research university in Eugene, Oregon. Founded in 1876, the institution’s 295-acre campus is along the Willamette River. Since July 2014, UO has been governed by the Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon. The university has a Carnegie Classification of “highest research activity” and has 19 research centers and institutes. UO was admitted to the Association of American Universities in 1969.

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