Sep. 25, 1997 WOOSTER, Ohio - The area around the town of Anna in western Ohio is the second-most active earthquake zone east of the Mississippi River, yet Ohio has not had a functioning seismic station since 1992. All that changed this past weekend when Wooster's Department of Geology began operating a new, long-period seismometer, which will be able to record earthquakes from around the world of approximately magnitude six and above on the Richter scale.
During its first few hours of operation, the seismic station successfully detected a 6.9 to 7.2 earthquake near the Kermadec Islands in the South Pacific.
According to Robert Varga, an assistant professor of geology who is spearheading the project, the system will directly benefit the education of Wooster's students, provide readily available seismic event information to the general public and establish the College as a leader in the nascent statewide effort to assess seismic risk. In addition, since the station will be tied through the Internet to other seismic station networks in Michigan and Indiana, it will be an important tool for geologists elsewhere.
As a result of the College's new station, Varga says that "Wooster is a primary source of data in northern Ohio immediately following either local earthquakes or following earthquakes of public interest elsewhere in the world. Our station certainly will be invaluable for helping to locate epicenters to earthquakes in the central and northeastern U.S."
By the end of this year, the Ohio Division of Geological Survey plans to construct a seismic station at Alum Creek State Park in Delaware County. When that site joins Wooster as one of only two operating seismometers in Ohio, geologists will have invaluable data for locating and assessing earthquakes in the state.
Wooster is located close to the Northern Ohio Seismic Zone, one of three principal clusters in Ohio. The College's seismometer will be the only instrument close to this zone and will be much more sensitive to local seismic events. Since the instrument will be linked to the MichSeis Network in Michigan and the IndiSeis Network in Indiana, Wooster's data will be available to seismologists elsewhere and will contribute to the location of seismogenic faults in Ohio, earthquake recurrence rates and to the general study of seismic risk.
"Earthquakes are fundamental geologic events which deeply affect human beings," observed Mark Wilson, professor of geology. "The more we know about seismic events, the more we can prepare ourselves for earthquakes. With the new instrument, Wooster will be one of a very few institutions collecting seismic information in this relatively unmetered part of the world."
The Wooster seismic station also will be a valuable source of information about earthquake activity for both the general public and the media.
"As a former Californian, I am particularly interested in seismic events everywhere and am well aware of the high level of public interest surrounding these events shortly after they happen," said Wooster President R. Stanton Hales, who was instrumental in obtaining a gift to establish the $6,000 seismic station. "I recall the powerful role geologists at Cal Tech played in the lives of Californians following earthquakes in the state or around the world. Wooster has an opportunity to play a similar role in Ohio and the Midwest."
Equally important are the instrument's educational possibilities. The operating software, which is being provided free of charge by geologist Larry Ruff at the University of Michigan, will allow students not only to see the currently plotting seismogram for the Wooster station, but also to access files of past events.
"Students will be able to observe seismic arrival times, determine the type of first motions - related to fault type - and calculate Wooster's distance to epicenters," said Varga. "These are all things that we talk about in lectures, but are much more exciting when experienced in real time. Because of the considerable numbers of students not majoring in geology in our courses, the seismic station will greatly increase scientific awareness among the general student body."
During her first oceanography class session following the earthquake, Lori Bettison-Varga, associate professor of geology and acting chair of the department, used the printout from the seismic station in her lecture.
"My students and I were talking about island arcs and subduction zones in class that day," said Bettison-Varga. "A subduction zone is where one crustal plate descends below the edge of another. I was able to use the information from this earthquake as real-time evidence that deep earthquakes occur and that they can tell us about the nature of plate motion."
The seismic station also will provide educational opportunities to students in area public schools. Varga intends to involve these students in learning about earthquakes and their measurements by creating a Wooster seismic station page on the World Wide Web that students will be able to use to learn about the basics of earthquake study and to access the real-time data recorded by the instrument.
"In essence, these students will be able to use our instrument via the Web in the same way as our own students in Scovel Hall," said Varga. "This should also provide a great opportunity to involve geology majors who are interested in education careers with in-service training. Interested majors could visit local schools to give presentations about earthquakes in general and about the use of the data from the Wooster seismic station and work with local teachers to develop seismic-related educational exercises and research projects."
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