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USGS, VT Researchers Installing Systems to Study Earthquakes in - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

USGS, VT Researchers Installing Systems to Study Earthquakes in VA

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Scientists are digging into why earthquakes hit Virginia. Workers from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Virginia Tech are burying some high-tech gadgets from Louisa County to Richmond to gain a better understanding of the tremors.

Scientists say Virginians are still feeling the aftershocks from the earthquake in 2011 that damaged the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral. It was a wake-up call for many of us unaware of its reach. But now, a pilot program will help them get to the bottom of it.

Across central Virginia, USGS researchers and Virginia Tech are installing systems to track vibrations from below. The data collected will help them uncover the truth.

"The East Coast, in some ways, has very low-probability, but very high-risk earthquakes. In the sense that, if there is an earthquake, there'll be a lot more damage than in other parts of the country," said Thomas Pratt, research geophysicist for USGS.

Solar panels keep the freshly installed sensors running, while the other tools pick up motion. Scientists will study the activity back in the labs and figure out exactly where earthquakes occur and how they move.

"That information is very important for assessing the hazard. If we have a better understanding of the geologic causes, then we have a lot better understanding of the hazards that they pose," said Martin Chapman, geophysics professor at Virginia Tech.

Pratt and Chapman hope these preliminary systems will evolve  into a larger network to understand more about these elusive earthquakes. It is impossible to say what the future holds, but the 2011 earthquake might be a warning.

"Probably bigger than the one we had in 2011, but how much bigger is something that we're trying to determine? A magnitude 5.8 is a moderate earthquake. But actually the fault that caused it is not all that big, and there are some very large faults in this area," said Chapman.

Researchers have their own theories on what's going on, but this project might reveal the secret.

"It's a real mystery," said Pratt.

Once scientists finish setting up the instruments, they'll return every month or so to gather the information. The USGS also says that on the West Coast, where earthquakes are more frequent, they're working on an early warning system that would alert people about 15 to 30 seconds before one hits.

United States Geological Survey Press Release

Reston, Va. – Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Virginia Tech will install a 20-station seismic network in the central Virginia area beginning Jan. 8. The new sensors – each about the size of a soda can – will provide information to help the researchers study the background seismicity in the area and any continuing aftershocks of the Aug. 23, 2011 earthquake near Louisa and Mineral, Va.

More than 450 aftershocks have been recorded since that magnitude 5.8 earthquake, which was felt from central Georgia to central Maine, and west to Detroit and Chicago. It is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population could have felt the earthquake, which damaged the Washington National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.

The 20-station network will be placed in locations from Charlottesville in the west, to east of Richmond, and for about 40 miles in a north-south direction centered along Interstate 64.

During the installations, USGS and Virginia Tech crews will place a seismometer and

electronic data logger at each site; at some sites a solar panel will be installed to power the equipment. In locations where sensors are being installed on private property, the landowners have volunteered their sites. The installations are expected to be completed by Jan. 13.

The seismic network will record tiny ground vibrations caused by earthquakes, and the science team will use the data to better understand earthquakes in the Central Virginia Seismic Zone. Network sensors will also help determine if the earthquakes align with specific faults by increasing the number of earthquakes detected and improving the accuracy of the locations.

Additional information about the earthquakes in Virginia is available online.

For more information about the USGS earthquake hazard program please visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/.

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