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After Noatak earthquake 'swarm' seems to subside, one more jolt

  • Author: Jillian Rogers
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published July 28, 2014

Just when seismologists thought the earthquake swarm near Noatak had settled down, a magnitude 4.55 quake shook the region Thursday night.

Earlier that day, the Alaska Earthquake Center reported a less active trend in the region. Then another earthquake hit.

The most recent was not as strong as the previous quakes, quakes that scientists labeled collectively as "an earthquake swarm," in April, May and June, though it was still unsettling for residents.

July data from instruments installed in the region earlier this summer is still being analyzed, according to the earthquake center. Though with information collected earlier, seismologists were able to determine a more accurate location of the quakes.

But the two seismic stations, set up last month in Noatak and Kotzebue to retrieve data for scientists to try and determine the cause of the swarm, were turned off last week due to budget restraints.

"We no longer have the internet service to provide data to those stations," said seismologist Mike West, with the Alaska Earthquake Center.

Providing the necessary service to the stations is a costly endeavor that had been donated up until last week, he added.

The stations in the Northwest Arctic are outside the earthquake center's network, and while they are looking for a long-term solution, the stations were never intended to be permanent, West said. And with state cuts, it's not possible for the earthquake center to expand its network at the moment.

Throughout April, May, and June, the Noatak region was rocked by four quakes measuring around 5.5, with hundreds of vigorous aftershocks.

Last week's episode was significantly weaker, and in other circumstances would be a logical magnitude for an aftershock.

"Of course, in Noatak there's something completely different going on," West said. "I would have expected earthquakes like last (week) given that we've had earthquakes a full magnitude larger in the last couple of months."

If more quakes start to happen, the instruments would potentially be reconnected, he added.

"Of course, we'd rather have them in place when the earthquakes happen, but these are the realities," West said. "If I lived in Noatak, I would be irritated by the fact that there wasn't better monitoring in the area."

On Thursday, when the earthquake started, Mickey Ashby was watching television and thought his kids were just roughhousing in another room. But then he noticed they were sitting at the table eating.

Ashby is the power plant operator in Noatak and said the foundation of the plant is still damaged from one of the earlier quakes.

"I was hoping and thinking that since we didn't have any tremors in a while, that we were done with it," Ashby said from Noatak last week.

After last week's quake, as with the previous ones, Ashby made his way over to the power plant to make sure everything was still running smoothly.

"One side of the foundation was already leaning after that last big one, and now it's leaning more," he said. "That's starting to be a little concern for me."

Ashby is waiting for help from field workers in Anchorage to repair the foundation, he said.

"I guess there's more important stuff to take care of elsewhere," he said. "It should be another week or two before I see anybody coming in to help me work on the building."

Ashby checks the statewide earthquake sites often and is trying to learn as much as he can about what it could all mean.

"It's pretty unnerving for most of us that live here because we're not used to this," he said. "Whenever we feel one, we expect a bigger one later on. After feeling the earthquake yesterday I imagine there's going to be some more."

But now without the aid of the seismic equipment, the reasons behind and potential foretelling of the next quake is anybody's guess.

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.

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