SD Mines Seismometer Upgrade Allows Geologists to Detect Earthquakes Around the World

Kevin Ward, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology and geological engineering at Mines points to a small seismograph that replaces all the older instruments inside the seismograph station on campus

On the afternoon of Jan. 5, 2019, the remote jungle of Acre, Brazil began to shake. The trees swayed, the ground moved up and down and animals scurried for cover. At 2:25 p.m. local time, the Seismological Observatory of the University of Brasilia registered a magnitude 6.8 (Mww) quake with an epicenter 55 miles west of Tarauaca, Brazil, and 204 miles east of Pucallpa, Peru with depth of 575 kilometers.

Minutes later, a tiny device, inside a concrete bunker at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology registered the same earthquake–and an email alert is sent to the phone of Kevin Ward, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology and geological engineering at Mines. “I can see earthquakes around the world,” says Ward.

The Mines seismographic bunker was built into the side of a hill behind campus in 1960. It includes a pillar of concrete that extends 25 feet into the ground the connects the bunker with the earth. For decades the seismometers in this bunker were part of the USGS Global Seismographic Network. But, as the university and the town of Rapid City grew–the level of local noise and vibrations interfered with the older mechanical seismometers. These instruments are so sensitive to vibration they can pick up trains, cars, and even footsteps nearby. “I can see cars driving by and tell if they are going up or down the nearby hill,” says Ward.

The seismographic bunker at Mines was abandoned in the mid 1990’s due to local noise interference. Today the USGS maintains a research grade seismometer in a remote part of the western Black Hills near the Wyoming border that is part of a global network of earthquake detectors. But when Ward came to Mines in 2018, he realized the potential of the old bunker as an education tool and location for a next generation seismometer.

Ward purchased a small digital seismometer, it can fit in one hand.  The instruments inside the clear plastic box include a computer and a geophone. This single seismometer replaces three rooms full of the old mechanical seismograph equipment. “Basically, you can buy these for a few hundred dollars.  It’s something armatures can buy,” says Ward.

The device that can track earthquakes around the world and send data in real time.  Special software can also be used to filter out background noise, like passing cars and trains–and watch for the unique signature made by a large earthquake happening somewhere around the world. The Mines seismograph, along with others around the world are registered on the Raspberry Shake Network here.

The SD Mines Museum of Geology is also installing a Raspberry Shake Seismometer that visitors can view first hand. The interactive exhibit will allow guests to jump up and down on the floor and see the waves they create in real-time. The Museum featured the new device in a post on their Facebook page here and officials plan to have the new exhibit up and running by mid-March.

On top of this, Ward also brought in a new earthquake display monitor, now installed in the Mines Department of Geology and Geological Engineering. The system uses USGS Earthquake display data on a map that show the most recent earthquakes around the globe in real time. 


Last edited 3/11/2019 5:42:49 PM

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