Michigan Tech News

Menominee County Shakeup was an Earthquake, says Tech Researcher

Last Modified 12:18 PM on Fri Nov 12, 2010

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By Dennis Walikainen

October 11, 2010—

That shaking and loud noise experienced recently in Menominee County of Upper Michigan was indeed an earthquake, albeit a small one, according to a Michigan Tech researcher.

“The large crack and ridge were created most probably by a magnitude 1 or 2 earthquake,” said Wayne Pennington, chair of geological and mining engineering and sciences, of the events that took place Monday, October 4.

The ridge and crack are 361 feet long, and the ridge is 4 to 5 feet high and 20 to 30 feet wide at its largest point, Pennington said after visiting the site. The crack is 2 feet wide and 4 to 5 feet deep at its largest point. Trees are tipped away from the crack at about 14 degrees on either side, showing that the surface is now tipping, having formed the ridge.

That ridge, according to Pennington, is the most informative feature, not the crack. Residents report that this ridge was not there earlier, and it appeared at the same time as the crack.

“The most-likely explanation is that the underlying limestone experienced a "pop-up," relieving stress that had accumulated in the uppermost few tens of feet of that layer," said Pennington.  (An earlier statement attributed the movement to faulting, which now appears unlikely.) “The limestone is hard and brittle, and this movement can be described as the small earthquake that was felt."

Overlying the limestone is about 20 feet of soft clay, he said. This clay will deform in a "mushy" manner, rather than breaking along a fault. It ends up being pushed together, and this is what formed the ridge.

“Imagine a carpet or towel on top of two boards that are being pushed together,” Pennington said. “The carpet will wrinkle, and at the top of the wrinkle, the carpet pile will be spread apart, like the trees. The crack is similar to the one that forms at the top of a loaf of bread as the dough rises.”

Pennington said that small earthquakes can occur almost anywhere, as stress accumulates locally and is occasionally released suddenly.

“The area this event occurred is not very likely to have another event soon, but the neighboring areas—at the ends of the ridge and crack—may experience similar events in the future,” he said.

“When? Anytime in the next couple of centuries—next week or 200 years from now; we have no way of telling.”

Michigan Technological University (www.mtu.edu) is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.

Original URL: http://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2010/october/story31847.html