Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Earthquakes

One thing that you never have to worry about while living on the flanks of some of the most active volcanoes on Earth is boredom. Case in point: today we had an earthquake (I'm fine, by the way).

Although there have been hundreds of small earthquakes in the few years I've been here, most of them down by Kīlauea area, I can only say I've felt two with any certitude. Today's magnitude 5.2-shaker, however, despite having an epicenter located 57 miles away and 10 miles deep in the crust, produced definite, unmistakable effects here in Hilo.

I was sitting at my desk after lunch, doing a little coding when a sudden jolt struck the building at about 2:14 PM. It was short and sharp, to the point that I almost wondered if I hadn't imagined it. A few seconds later however an aftershock arrived that dramatically shook the entire office building for about five seconds before dying away. If it had gone on any longer I was beginning to contemplate evacuation, but we haven't had any more aftershocks as of the writing of this post.

I lived through a few large earthquakes during my childhood in Taiwan, but it's been over thirteen years since then and in that time I've felt only a few minor earthquakes. I'd forgotten the what it's like when the Earth - that solid underpinning of your whole life that you ordinarily never give a second thought to - begins to move uncontrollably under your feet. For a minor earthquake, it can be fun; you get a little shake, but there's no damage done. For a large earthquake it's terrifying. Thankfully this one was still small enough that I doubt there was much serious damage done, although the shear pins in UKIRT broke (as they're designed to do to protect the telescope from earthquakes) which will probably be take a bit to fix.

The earthquake was probably related to the youngest member of the Hawaiian island chain, a submarine volcano located off the south-east coast of Hawai'i island named Lōʻihi.

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