Air Survey Underway in Ark. to Find New Fault Lines

Air Survey Underway in Ark. to Find New Fault Lines

An instrument on the back of a Cessna will help scientists learn more about what's under the ground from the sky.
BLYTHEVILLE, AR ( - Parts of the Mid-South sit in the New Madrid seismic zone, a hot bed for potentially dangerous earthquakes. An aeromagnetic survey started this past weekend to look for unknown fault lines to better predict the probability of earthquakes.

The survey is based out of Blytheville, Arkansas, elevation 255 feet, but this area has seen more seismic activity over the last 40 years than any other place in the country east of the Rockies, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Rick Blakely, a research geophysicist with the USGS, says, “We are measuring the magnetic field of the Earth as close to the ground as we can safely fly.”

That puts the plane at an altitude of about 650 feet, at that height they start taking measurements of magnetic waves given off by the Earth.

Blakely explains how those waves are created: “You have two kinds of rock sediments next to each other with different magnetic properties, that contact produces a very small magnetic field.”

Michael Hobbs with Airborne Acquisition adds, “Those rock types are plotted up and processed, we’re able to see fault and structures in the earth that were previously unknown.”

Blakely could not stress enough, “Let me make one thing clear, I am not looking for earthquakes, I am looking for the structure that might be causing the earthquakes.”

He’s not looking for earthquakes but one did happen Wednesday afternoon, a magnitude 3.2 just 17 miles south/southeast of Jonesboro. We were out of Blytheville by the time it happened but you may have felt it if you were close enough.

That said, larger ones are possible in the magnitude 7 or 8 range. Blakely fears with growth comes a greater risk of damage. “If this were to happen now with all of the development, the consequences would be dire, from a USGS point of view being prepared is the way to go.”

After all the air miles over the next month, they hope to have the results of the survey by January 2014.
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