Idaho Earthquakes: Are They Nothing or Indicators of Something Big?

Friday, 18 Apr 2014 02:34 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Idaho earthquakes are puzzling geologists as the central part of the Northwest state has reportedly experienced hundreds of low-level and mid-level quakes since last month, beginning on March 24 and climaxing with a 4.9 magnitude earthquake this past Saturday.

Geologists are trying to figure out if the quakes are nothing more than some uncommon rumblings from a seismic fault previously thought to be dormant or are they precursors to a much more significant and potentially damaging earthquake, Reuters reported.

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While there were no injuries in Saturday’s earthquake, prior quakes in the state have proven fatal with a 6.9 magnitude earthquake occurring in 1983, which left two children dead.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Saturday's earthquake was the strongest recorded in the state since 2005. It was followed by a 4.4 magnitude quake on Monday that struck 10 miles north of the small ranching community of Challis, Idaho, Reuters reported.

"What has many of us scratching our heads is the present-day swarm doesn't appear to be on the big, active fault in the area that ruptured in 1983 and caused the largest earthquake in Idaho," geologist Bill Phillips, with the Idaho Geological Survey at the University of Idaho, told Reuters.

On Tuesday, Harley Benz, the scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center, told The Associated Press that two seismometer devices would be installed this week to help his team monitor and closely track any future activity. The seismometers will be installed by a field engineer from the University of Utah, according to Benz.

"It certainly has gotten the attention of the state and our regional partners," Benz, who is based in Golden, Colo., told the AP. "So what we're trying to do is put in an array to get a better feel for the location of the events and the depths and the rate of activity."

"People are asking: 'Is this going to lead to a bigger earthquake?'" Benz added. "And the answer is we simply don't know."

Michael Stickney, director of earthquake studies at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, told Reuters that the seismic belt on which Idaho sits runs from northwestern Montana to southern Nevada. It is said to contain thousands of fault lines in the Earth's crust.

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