Earthquakes: You can run, but you cannot hide

Unexpected earthquakes the number one cause of “pandalarium,” according to scientist


Many in the Northeast were rattled by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake this week.  It can be a shocking experience to people of a region who hitherto have no expectation of experiencing an earthquake.  Here in Oklahoma, something similar happened late 2010.

Amie Gibson, a research scientist at the Leonard Geological Observatory, just East of Bixby, Oklahoma and hidden out of sight on Concharty Mountain (a big hill, really), said the phone rang off the hook the morning the Great Oklahoma Quake of 2010 struck, and the email box for seismic “felt” reports filled up faster than they could reasonably be read.

One email read, “Pandalarium!  We could have been killed, or worse.”

After consecutive days of record rainfall, on the heels of the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, the sun made a cameo appearance as I negotiated my car up the pot-hole riddled drive that led to the Leonard Geological Observatory.  I got out of my car and met Amie Gibson, and the other scientists at the observatory, who were taking a smoke break on the porch of the modest building that serves as the headquarters for monitoring seismic activity under Oklahoma.  We went inside, where Amie clicked open a window on her computer.

“See that?” she asked pointing to a green line with a frequency bulge in the middle of it like a snake with a rat in its belly.  “That’s from just a few moments ago,” she explained.

“An earthquake?” I asked, excited.

“No,” she said.  “That was your car door slamming shut.”  Amie’s data did indicate that there had been one 2.0 magnitude quake that morning five miles West of Maysville, just South of Oklahoma City.

Over the previous weekend, there had been approximately 46 earthquakes all across the State of Oklahoma, one of which was felt.  “The rule of thumb is,” she explained, “to be felt, an earthquake should be at least 2.5 in magnitude.”  However, she told me that there have been reports of felt quakes that were of lesser magnitude.

Within the last year there had been many earthquakes felt all over Oklahoma.  According to Amie, seismic activity does seem to be on the rise over the past few years, but she tempered that assessment by pointing out that there are more people to feel them everywhere, and that the technology to sense them has improved.

She showed me a map of fault lines in Oklahoma.  They criss-cross the state at every conceivable angle.  “Those are just the ones we know about,” she said.  According to Amie, there are more unknown fault lines than known ones.

“If we could see every fault line on this map,” she said, “it would probably be all blacked out.”

The fact of the matter is that faults lines are all over the place, coast to coast, and everywhere in between.  The ground beneath our feet has a fluidity of its own.

It’s just that for those of us living in areas where earthquakes rarely reach a magnitude to be felt, when the ground does shift, and plaster falls from the walls, terrified people blurt out strange new words like “pandalarium.”

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Posted by on August 25, 2011. Filed under Commentary,Environment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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2 Responses to Earthquakes: You can run, but you cannot hide

  1. Holte Ender Reply

    August 25, 2011 at 9:59 am

    ‘Pandalarium’ is a word I am taking and adding to my vocabulary and will use it while I live and breathe. Nice bit a first-hand research Collin, nothing like being out in the field and going home with a very interesting story. Nice one.

    P.S. While the quake that “shook the east” was felt down here I never noticed a thing, my cat kept on sleeping so it couldn’t have been much a tremor for us.

  2. Dorothy Anderson Reply

    August 26, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Collin, I hope this makes everyone feel better. We live directly above the edges of where two tectonic plates meet. Japan is centered among three… those are the areas that get the most earthquakes. Here’s a NASA map.

    Amie’s right about fault lines. They’re everywhere across the world. Living out here, it’s good to understand geology. We can all run, but not all that far. 🙂

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