Coming for an Earth science tour of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute right after a major earthquake hit your region is a rare and exceptional opportunity to connect with science. This is what happened on February 3 for the high school boys and girls basketball teams from Nicholaevsk, a small community on the western Kenai Peninsula less than 100 miles from the epicenter of the magnitude 7.1 Iniskin earthquake that hit 10 days earlier.
A personal experience is a fantastic way to connect an audience to the science that previously might have been an abstract notion. All of the students had stories to tell.
At the Alaska Earthquake Center, they received an overview of seismic instruments. They got to test how Slinkies mimic the two types of seismic waves, P waves and S waves, and then were given an overview of what happened during the M = 7.1 earthquake. Through animations and maps that had just been developed, as well as explanations from experts, the students were able to see and better understand that the anomalously strong shaking that occurred in their town was due to amplification of ground motion in the Cook Inlet sedimentary basin.
At the Alaska Volcano Observatory, they learned about how volcanoes near their community are monitored using infrasound and highly precise GPS monuments. A hands-on experiment employed sand, an inflatable balloon, GPS stations represented by candies, and access to live data accessible via the UNAVCO website. This allowed them to better understand how movement can be monitored, how these data can be read and measured, why it is important, and, specifically, how much the town of Nickolaevsk “moved” as a result of the earthquake.
Coordinating visits such as these is one aspect of the Education and Outreach program of the EarthScope National Office, hosted at the UAF Geophysical Institute. This outreach effort reaches out to rural communities who host seismic instruments, inviting their basketball teams to visit the facilities at the GI as they travel through Fairbanks for their games. As EarthScope upgrades and installs more and more seismic stations in Alaska over the next three years, place-based education will continue to benefit from the scientific use of live data transmitted by the instruments in place.
The wave visualization can be watched here (full region) and here (zoom-in on Anchorage region). Find more resources about this Earthquake here.