Seismograph Stations Reaches 50-year Mark

50th InvitationThe centennial of the installation of the first seismographs on the University of Utah campus by Dr. James E. Talmage was celebrated on June 29, 2007. April 2016 brings another milestone―the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations (UUSS).

On April 11, 1966, the University of Utah Board of Regents recognized the Seismograph Stations as an organizational entity in formally appointing Dr. Kenneth L. Cook as its first director, a position he held until 1976.

The term “University of Utah Seismograph Stations” originally referred to a small group of seismographic installations with onsite photographic recording. In 1962 the University operated stations on campus, in Price, and at Dugway; data from a fourth station owned by Utah State University in Logan were incorporated. Attendants at the remote stations routinely mailed paper seismograms to the University for analysis and interpretation. Data added from three other stations in Utah during the mid-to-late 1960s enabled a skeletal statewide seismographic network to emerge.

During Governor Calvin L. Rampton’s term of office (1965–1977), Dr. Cook served on two advisory bodies to the governor. Persuaded that seismic monitoring was vital to the welfare and safety of the people of Utah, Governor Rampton initiated state funding to the University of Utah Seismograph Stations in 1971 and helped establish this funding as a line-item appropriation from the Utah State Legislature beginning in 1972.

Dr. Kenneth L. Cook, 1974 (Photo: Salt Lake Tribune)

Dr. Kenneth L. Cook, 1974 (Photo: Salt Lake Tribune)

A number of significant changes over the past 50 years have contributed to an evolution in the character of UUSS. These include changes both in technology and in motivations for seismic monitoring. Regional earthquake monitoring has long been prompted by damaging earthquakes. In the 1960s, the monitoring of underground nuclear tests became important. In the 1970s, there was a growing interest in earthquake research and in earthquake prediction. The 1980s brought the added need to serve emergency management and earthquake engineering. Since 2000, UUSS has been involved in multipurpose seismic monitoring as part of an Advanced National Seismic System.

In 1974, a major transformation of the University of Utah’s seismograph network began under the direction of Drs. K. L. Cook, R. B. Smith, and S. H. Ward (director, 1976–1980). Onsite-recording installations were superseded by a regional telemetered seismic network involving radio, microwave, and telephone telemetry. In early 1974, there were two telemetered stations in the UUSS network. By the end of 1975, an additional 25 telemetered stations were added to form a regional network with continuous centralized recording on the University campus that covered much of the Wasatch Front area (recording was on multi-channel film recorders). Geographic coverage expanded to other parts of the Utah region with a total of nearly 60 stations operating by the end of the 1970s.

Under Dr. Robert B. Smith (director, 1980–1985), digital seismic recording of the UUSS regional seismic network began in January 1981. Also, a local seismic network in the Yellowstone National Park region, originally installed by the U.S. Geological Survey, was integrated into UUSS operations and research.

Multi-year efforts by Dr. Walter J. Arabasz (director, 1985–2010) to foster a strong state earthquake program and to help achieve congressional authorization of an Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) resulted in access to state and federal funds for improved seismic monitoring and enabled significant modernization and statewide expansion of the UUSS regional seismic network. In 2000, in advance of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, UUSS began implementing a real-time earthquake information system together with the integration of urban strong-motion monitoring into the UUSS regional seismic network. Further growth followed major increases in state funding in 2007 and in ANSS funding in 2009. In 2009, UUSS moved its network operations into seismically-hardened, state-of the-art facilities in the Frederick Albert Sutton building on the university campus, and the Rio Tinto Earthquake Information Center was inaugurated.

UUSS Director, Dr. Keith D. Koper (Photo credit: Remi Barron, UofU)

UUSS Director, Dr. Keith D. Koper (Photo: Remi Barron, UofU)

Since, 2010, Dr. Keith D. Koper (director, 2010-present) has overseen the implementation of a state-of-the-art ANSS Quake Monitoring System to detect and locate seismicity in the Utah and Yellowstone regions. As of April 2016, UUSS maintains and operates 237 seismic stations (ANSS network codes: UU [194 stations], WY [28 stations], and NP [15 stations]). As a member of the Utah Earthquake Program, UUSS collaborates with state agencies and professional partners to better understand Utah’s earthquake threat and to advise policy makers (both state and federal) regarding seismic-related safety issues.

Graphic credit: Utah Earthquake Program (Utah Division of Emergency Management, University of Utah Seismograph Stations, and the Utah Geological Survey).

(Graphic courtesy of the Utah Earthquake Program: Utah Division of Emergency Management, University of Utah Seismograph Stations, and the Utah Geological Survey).

As UUSS enters its 51st year of operations, it continues to pursue a four-fold mission: 1) Earthquake recording and monitoring in the Utah and Yellowstone regions as a member of the ANSS, 2) Generation of timely earthquake-related data products for research and seismic safety planning, 3) Academic research and teaching as part of a larger seismology group within the Department of Geology and Geophysics, and 4) Education and outreach to increase awareness and understanding of earthquakes and the earthquake threat in Utah and Yellowstone.

 

Notes:

1) “Historical Review of Earthquake-Related Studies and Seismographic Recording in Utah” by Walter J. Arabasz, in Earthquake Studies in Utah 1850 to 1978, Special Publication of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations and the Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, July 1979, pp. 33-56.

2) “Seismographic Centennial, June 29, 1907–June 29, 2007: Commemorating the centennial of the installation of the first seismographs in Utah by Dr. James E. Talmage and celebrating 100 years of earthquake recording at the University of Utah” by Walter J. Arabasz, University of Utah Seismograph Stations, July 2007, 12 pp.