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In midst of Alaska quake swarms, monitoring stations suddenly turned off: Why?

Quake swarms roll on, seismic monitors turned off:  Why?
Quake swarms roll on, seismic monitors turned off: Why?

A strange swarm of earthquakes near Noatak, Alaska, ongoing for months, continues not only to confound locals, but scientists as well. Noatak, a village of about 500 people near the Chukchi Sea, was rattled most recently by a 4.5 quake on Thursday night, July 24, and on the following day by a 5.9 preceded by a 5.3 and followed by multiple aftershocks.

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The seismic activity about 12 miles northeast of Noatak is what seismologists call a "quake swarm" or a sequence of similar-sized earthquakes in similar locations over a period of time. This kind of sustained earthquake activity is highly unusual in this remote part of arctic Alaska.

What seems to be puzzling scientists most is there is no earthquake fault near Noatak. A database compiled by the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys shows no active fault structures for hundreds of miles. And yet, in the midst of all this shaking and all these puzzled scientists, seismologists have "suddenly decided to turn off" two monitoring stations. Curiouser and curiouser.

When someone behaves in a very secretive way, others become curious. But when that same person starts doing things even more bizarre, then things get “curiouser and curiouser.”

Why on earth would any seismologist in her or his right mind turn off monitoring stations on the very week Noatak village was so violently shaken by multiple quakes?

But wait. There must be a good reason, you say.

Well, according to seismologist Mike West, of the Alaska Earthquake Center, they no longer have Internet service to provide to those stations. What!

It seems that providing Internet service to the monitoring stations (both behaving perfectly) is a costly endeavor that, "until last week," had been donated. Timing is everything. So in the middle of ongoing earthquake swarms, the Alaska Earthquake Center shuts down two seismic stations set up just last month, due to budget restraints

Again, what!

Do you find it a bit odd too? July data from instruments is still being analyzed. With information collected earlier, seismologists were able to determine a more accurate location of the quakes, and with these two seismic stations set up in Noatak and Kotzebue, they were able to retrieve data for scientists.

"Of course, in Noatak there’s something completely different going on,” West said, "and if he lived in Noatak, he would be irritated by the fact that there wasn’t better monitoring in the area. If more quakes start to happen, the instruments would potentially be reconnected."

Why disconnect them at all when they are so obviously needed? Maybe the nervous and irritated citizens of Noatak can take up a collection or set up a fund to keep the Internet service to the seismic stations up and running.

The following is a sampling of the hundreds if not thousands of quakes in the Noatak region. The shaking started on April 18 with two magnitude 5.7 quakes 12 minutes apart. Three more of the same magnitude hit on May 3, June 9 and 16, along with more than 300 smaller quakes. Since April 18, five 5.7 temblors have rocked the area along with hundreds of vigorous aftershocks Throughout April, May, and June, the Noatak region was rocked by four quakes measuring around 5.5.

  • Apr 18: 5.6 at 10:44 am followed by a series of less powerful quakes, including a 5.3 magnitude aftershock that struck just 12 minutes later. At least 10 or so aftershocks followed.
  • May 03: Another quake rocked the area
  • May 06: Total of 74 earthquakes in the region with magnitudes ranging from 2.5 to 5.6
  • Jun 06: 5.5 Noatak at 08:43:33
  • Jun 07: 6.0, 22 mi NE of Noatak
  • Jun 13: 5.5 just 10 miles from Noatak (4th magnitude 5.5 quake to rock the area in six weeks, accompanied by 250 unusually vigorous aftershocks all with the same fault motion and in more or less the same place)
  • Jun 16: 5.7, ENE of Noatak (5th quake of “exactly” that size to shake the village since April)
  • Jun 30: 3.0, NNW of Noatak
  • Jul 02: 3.5, ENE of Noatak
  • Jul 12: 2.9, NE of Noatak
  • Jul 17: 4.5, 30 miles east of Noatak around 9:30 pm
  • Jul 18: 4.6, ENE of Noatak, 05:33:26 UTC
  • Jul 18: 2.9, ENE of Noatak, 12:12:01 UTC
  • Jul 19: 3.2, near Noatak, 00:42:28 UTC
  • Jul 24: 4.5 rattled the region on Thursday night
  • Jul 25: 5.9 and several others; 5.9 preceded by a 5.3 and followed by multiple aftershocks, including one of 4.6.

When the 4.5 quake hit, unsettling Noatak residents, Mickey Ashby, the power plant operator in Noatak, was watching television. He thought his kids were roughhousing in another room until he noticed they were sitting at the table. Ashby says the foundation of the power plant is still damaged from one of the earlier quakes. After last week’s quake, one side of the foundation that was leaning after that last big one, is now leaning more.

Watch out Oklahoma, Alaska is closing in on you as the US quake swarm champ. No fracking here.

It seems that no sooner do the quake swarms get rolling than the seismic monitors go missing (so to speak). Without the aid of the seismic monitors, the puzzled scientists and irritated residents of Noatak will probably never know the real reason for the quake swarms until it's too late.

Gee, isn't this same type of seismic-monitor shutdown that happens regularly at the Yellowstone supervolcano?

Survivalists rock!

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