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North Slope gets earthquake tracking equipment

Jillian RogersThe Arctic Sounder

There are two interesting things about a magnitude 3.5 earthquake near Barrow earlier this month, according to state seismologist Mike West.

First of all, earthquakes on the North Slope are rare. Not unheard of, he said, but pretty unusual.

Second, the quake happened just about a month or so after new seismic equipment went online in the region.

The quake, a relatively modest one, was felt widely in Barrow, though no damage was reported.

Until this summer, seismologists didn’t have the ability to track quakes and aftershocks in the region.

“This has improved the ability to see and record earthquakes up there,” West said Monday. “There is a growing awareness that Alaska is well poised to be the stepping stone for tracking activities of all sorts in the Arctic and there is a growing need to know more about what’s going on.”

The equipment in Barrow is the first Alaska seismic instrument with EarthScope’s Transportable Array program.

Earlier this spring, Brian Coyle, deployment coordinator for the program, and his team used a custom drill to auger an 18-foot deep borehole into the frozen arctic soil, where the instrument was placed in July. This instrument will remain in the ground for up to five years, detecting not only Alaska earthquakes but also earthquakes of magnitude 5 and greater around the world.

“The Barrow station is a game-changer for earthquake tracking north of the Brooks Range,” said West, who is also the director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, which is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute, in a statement last month.

“Earthquakes, explosions, ice, and meteorological phenomena -- in fact, anything that shakes the Chukchi or Beaufort seas -- will be easier to detect and better observed with the Barrow site now online,” he said.

Coyle’s team will install more than 200 stations in a grid-like array across Alaska in 50-mile intervals.

The data gathered at each site will be transmitted to both the earthquake center and the Incorporated Research Institutes for Seismology data management center in Seattle. Recordings of the live data feed from the Barrow station, named A21K, and all other transportable array stations, can be viewed online.

This article originally appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.