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DVIDS – News – The NRL world is in the right place, the right time to record a historic earthquake




WASHINGTON – US Naval Research Laboratory researcher Ben Frambus recorded the largest US earthquake in nearly half a century when it recently hit the coast of southern Alaska. The 8.2-magnitude earthquake went unnoticed because it was roughly 20 miles below the ocean floor. However, it briefly triggered evacuations, tsunami warnings in the area, and aftershocks 6.2 and 5.6, respectively.

Phrampus, a research physicist in the NRL Department of Geology and Geophysics, was in the right place at the right time while observing aboard a research vessel when the July 29 earthquake struck, and crew instruments recorded the event.

The US Academic Society’s National Seismic Research Facility Marcus G. Langseth, managed by the Office of Naval Operations of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, was located west of a chain of islands called Haida Gwaii, off the North Pacific coast of Canada. An acoustic receiver, known as a microphone streamer, recorded the noise while in the water at the time and showed a huge boom.

“Seeing it live on the data stream was particularly exciting,” said Frambos. “We were actually watching the sound waves of the earthquake on our devices almost in real time, which is pretty cool.” The earthquake occurred near Perryville, Alaska, a small community on the Alaskan Peninsula about 500 miles southwest of Anchorage.

“I was standing monitoring (on duty) looking at the incoming data to make sure everything looked good,” Frambus said. “I happened to look at the broadcast data in time to catch the event as it happened.”

The technicians on board were initially concerned about what they were seeing. “We wanted to make sure there was no problem with the equipment,” he said. “We quickly realized that it was not a hardware issue. This led us to be curious to find the source.”

Some quick checks revealed that it was an earthquake. They confirmed their findings after viewing the website of the US Geological Survey, which reported the 8.2-magnitude earthquake.

After tsunami warnings went off, coastal residents rushed to higher ground and – or were evacuated. It was the strongest earthquake in North America since the magnitude 9.2 earthquake in Alaska in 1964. Known as the “Great Alaska Earthquake,” it spread across south-central Alaska, cracking ground, collapsing structures, and tsunamis. More than 130 people died in the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America. This was the second largest earthquake ever recorded on Earth.

The recent earthquake may have caused light to moderate damage and a moderate tremor, according to preliminary seismic data. The US National Tsunami Warning Center has canceled a tsunami warning for parts of Alaska after waves less than one foot ashore. The tremors spread throughout the Alaskan Peninsula and Kodiak.

Frambus said an offshore rupture reached the sea floor along the continental slope. This produced seismic energy that interacted with the Sound and Range Determining Channel, or SOFAR, a surround channel that allows sound to carry great distances, according to the National Ocean Service. The ocean is made up of many areas, and sound can travel through an area for hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles. The interaction with SOFAR converted the energy into sound waves, a process called descending slope transformation, Frambus said.

This interaction trapped the sound waves in the water column and helped spread them across the Pacific Ocean. Frambus said that only 20 minutes later, the broadcaster recorded the event, which was surprising and exhilarating for the crew.

The research team is assessing the tectonic and seismic hazards of earthquakes and tsunamis along the Queen Charlotte Fault, which has caused major earthquakes in the past. Although the latest event was exciting enough, there is still a lot to learn about the recent earthquake and the fault itself, he said.

“We only did a preliminary analysis to verify that the 8.2 earthquake is what we see on our equipment,” he said. “We will delve into this more in the coming months.” The research trip ended on August 24. The results will be presented at the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans in December.

About the US Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a scientific and engineering discipline dedicated to research that drives innovative developments for the United States Navy and Marine Corps from the seabed into space and into the information realm. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field locations at Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, employs approximately 2,500 civil scientists, engineers, and support personnel.

For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746 or [email protected]




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