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Alaskan Earthquake 'to be Expected,' says Baylor Researcher

June 22, 2009

As reports of a strong earthquake in Alaska continue to emerge today, a Baylor University earthquake researcher says this is not an unusual event in this area.

The U.S. Geological Survey said an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.4 struck near the town of Willow at 11:30 a.m. The epicenter was 58 miles from the state's largest city, Anchorage, where the rumbling continued for several moments, causing people to dive under desks and huddling in doorways.

Dr. Jay Pulliam, professor of geophysics at Baylor, says the earthquake took place where the Pacific tectonic plate is subducting beneath the North American plate.

"There have been many, many events there in the past so this is not an unusual event," Pulliam said. "It's also a remote region in the Aleutians so the population density is extremely low."

Widely considered an expert in geophysics, Pulliam is leading a Baylor team that is playing host to two seismic stations as part of EarthScope, the largest geoscience project ever funded by the federal government. In addition, the Baylor scientists installed a 70-station network focused on the Rio Grande Rift, a rift valley extending north from Mexico, near El Paso, through New Mexico and into central Colorado. The program involves the National Science Foundation, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA and hundreds of geoscientists from universities around the country.

The Baylor researchers will use geophysical data generated by EarthScope and other projects to help them recognize potentially dangerous faults that can produce earthquakes and to learn about the processes by which our continent is evolving. The two reference seismograph stations that Baylor now hosts are among the hundreds of seismographs that contribute information to the national database. The two stations will be part of nearly 100 that remain behind to become permanent parts of the USGS's Advanced National Seismic System.