BC's Weston Observatory Stirred by All the Shaking

BC's Weston Observatory Stirred by All the Shaking

They record earthquakes from Quito to Katmandu, but when a quake centered in upstate New York rattled china in Chestnut Hill early Saturday morning, Geology and Geophysics Department Chairman Assoc. Prof. Alan Kafka slept through it, while Weston Observatory Director Prof. John Ebel (Geology and Geophysics) was at a Seismological Society of America meeting in Victoria, British Columbia.

"The one day I'm out of town, an earthquake strikes," Ebel said of the 5.1-magnitude temblor, centered near Plattsburgh, NY, that was felt through much of the Northeast shortly before 7 a.m. on April 20.
Ebel said his wife felt the tremors at their home in Natick, and soon thereafter began relaying media calls to him in the other BC, where it was four in the morning. Ebel's assistant, Rev. William Ott, SJ, was pressed into service locally to handle the stream of calls from newspapers and TV stations.

"The telephones were all ringing continuously," Fr. Ott said. "I was the only one here for about two hours. I spent most of that time just answering the telephone, talking to individuals, who were concerned about what they had felt, and to the news media.

"The TV crews from all of the local stations started showing up at about 9:30 a.m. and some of them were around here until 6:30 PM. Our Web site had some 6,800 hits that day.

"We received almost 400 e-mail messages from people who felt the quake, many of them saying that they were BC alumni or were associated with BC in some way. I'm still busy trying to respond to each of these messages when I can get a free minute."

Kafka, who archives seismograms of quakes from Turkey to the Kodiak Islands on his Internet site, was asleep in his Hudson home when the tremors were felt.

"As an eastern US seismologist for more than two decades, I have yet to feel an eastern quake," he reported. "As is typical for me, I slept through the quake last Saturday!"

"It's certainly a reminder we're living in earthquake country," said Ebel, who said a quake of the magnitude of the one in New York is felt in the northeast every three to five years, the last near Quebec City in 1997.

He said the largest quake ever recorded in New England, off the coast of Cape Ann in 1755, is believed to have measured in the low sixes on the Richter scale.

Extensive information on earthquakes in New England and the eastern United States is available at Kafka's World Wide Web site [www2.bc.edu/~kafka].

-Mark Sullivan


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