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Hanford Scientists Study Swarm of Small Earthquakes under the Nuclear Reservation

Anna King

Scientists at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are studying new data coming in about a swarm of earthquakes in southeast Washington. They installed new equipment because there have been about 700 small quakes near the Columbia River since the first of the year, and their frequency appears to be increasing. Richland Correspondent Anna King has more.


Alan Rohay has been studying quakes at the Hanford site and in Eastern Washington since he was a college student back in the 1970s. The earthquake swarm happening lately is the most intense he's ever seen. In fact, Rohay is struggling to keep up with all the data his machines are spitting out. There was a magnitude 2.2 just Sunday morning. The earthquakes are relatively small, the biggest just in the twos. Rohay thinks underground pressure is cracking layers of basalt laid down by lava flows thousands of years ago.

Rohay: "It can't support the stress anymore and the stress is picked up by ones nearby either above or below. They in turn have that increased stress and so they break and so it ends up being a snap, crackle, pop kind of thing."

Rohay has just installed three new monitoring sites to determine how deep the quakes are. So far a few nearby residents have felt the quakes, but the shaking hasn't damaged anything on the Hanford site.

I'm Anna King in Richland.

© Copyright 2009, NWPR

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