Tuesday, July 3, 2018

When will the next big one hit?

Most people feel that the ground that they walk on is a constant. The term “Terra Firma” expounds this belief that the ground is ever stable. Depending on where you live, this is quite true or not so much. We now know that the earth’s outer crust is a series of plates that float on a bed of molten magna and in doing so bump and grind against themselves. There are regions where one plate is diving downward under another, call subduction zones and other areas where two plates are moving laterally. The common feature that the regions all have are earthquakes. Periods where Terra Firma shakes and moves with a tremendous release of energy such that buildings fall and the land is rearranged. These tremors have terrified humankind since the beginning of civilization.

With the advancement of science, we have learned the cause of these titanic events and have worked to try to predict and measure these events. The most common tool are seismometers, which measures the movement of the earth’s crust locally. There sensitivity is such that the epicenter location of earthquakes can be determined and their strength reported as a number on the Richter magnitude scale.

Figure 1. Seismograph tracings from Mexico City around the time of winning goal being scored.
Mother Nature is not the only thing that can cause the Earth to shake. The advent of nuclear weapons has resulted in explosive devices that are detected by the same seismographs that would normally detect Earthquakes. Human activity such as fracking and drilling wastewater disposal, where fluids are injected into the ground to assist the collection of subterranean oil and gas deposits, has resulting in the ground shifting in areas that historically have never had tremors. The state of Oklahoma for example now has more earthquakes than California. Most recently, a potentially human caused tremor was recorded in Mexico City. While not a true Earthquake, some suggest that the Hirving Lozano’s 35th-minute goal in Mexico’s upset victory against defending champion Germany in the 2018 World Cup was the cause. No damage has been reported from the artificial earthquake and Mexico fans are expected to continue celebrating through next week when they face the next round of group stage matches. Mexico will play against South Korea on June 23 at 11 a.m. Eastern.

Now if only the US could manage to qualify we might have our own Earthquake.

By: BioTek Instruments, Paul Held PhD, Laboratory Manager

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