SMU team will try to get to the bottom of earthquakes

SMU researchers are deploying seismic stations in North Texas to gather data on earthquakes hitting the area.

SMU Professor Brian Stump

The Dallas Morning News

The recent swarm of small earthquakes has stirred more than a passing interest among local scientists, and a team from Southern Methodist University is deploying portable seismic stations to get a better read on why the earth's moving under our feet.

SMU recently received 10 high-tech, portable seismic stations, which were loaned to the school for six months through a university consortium supported by the National Science Foundation.

Stump and his team plan to set up in areas of Tarrant and Johnson counties, where recent earthquakes have occurred. As many as four of the seismographs will be set up in Cleburne at the request of the town's mayor and City Council, which has called for a study of what's causing the tremors. . .

SMU decided to do its own study after three earthquakes occurred in Tarrant County on May 16, Stump said.

The U.S. Geological Survey is the federal agency that tracks earthquakes. But USGS monitoring equipment isn't close enough to North Texas to provide precise depth measurements. Scientists needed better data to help determine if there is a link between the gas-drilling activities in the Barnett Shale and the recent earthquakes.

That's where SMU's sensors can help.

"We'd like to sit [the portable seismic systems] right on top of where this is happening," Stump said. "We'd like to be within a kilometer."

The metallic cylinders weigh about 4 pounds and can detect the slightest movement underground, pinpointing its location and depth. The data is stored in a computer disc that the SMU team will retrieve every week or so to download and study.

Stump and other scientists said they hope to find out soon what's causing the tremors – and whether they are linked to drilling activities.

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