New Brunswick town plagued for weeks by ‘earthquake swarm’ — and no one knows why
Joe O'Connor Apr 17, 2012 – 8:17 PM ET | Last Updated: Apr 17, 2012 9:47 PM ET
Springtime in McAdam, a tiny village in southwestern New Brunswick not far from the Maine border, is like springtime in most other parts of Canada. Locals chatter about the NHL playoffs, the garden they are planting, the grass that needs to be cut, the fish they can’t wait to catch and the cottage they can’t wait to get to, once the warm weather really settles in.
Lately, however, an interloper has elbowed its way into the community’s daily dialogue. Pushing aside the playoffs. Pushing its way to the very top of the talking points.
“Everybody is talking about the earthquakes,” says David Blair, a retired science teacher and lifetime McAdam resident from his home on Old Harvey Road, just east of downtown.
“You’ll be out and about and people will say, ‘Did you feel the one last night, or did you feel the one this morning? Some people will say yes, others might say no. It really depends on what you are doing.’
“If you are quiet at home and there is not a lot of noise you are probably going to feel or hear it. But if you are banging around, or if the grandkids are banging around, you sometimes won’t know if it’s the kids — or if it was an earthquake — they are about the same magnitude, I guess.”
Residents were initially rattled awake at 1:40 a.m. on March 10 by a 2.4-magnitude earthquake that was followed three minutes later by a 1.4-magnitude aftershock. People described hearing what sounded like an explosion. Pictures fell off walls. Window panes rattled. Floorboards creaked and groaned. Some houses even shook, while locals, initially, felt a surge of panic that eased, somewhat, by morning with the realization that a bomb had not gone off but a small earthquake had.
Three days later: two more earthquakes. And in the five weeks since there have been 35 additional shakes, a steady tide of minor tremours that is a popular topic of conversation among villagers and a seismic anomaly that scientists can’t entirely explain.
“What is happening in McAdam is something called an earthquake swarm,” says Stephen Halchuk, a seismologist with Natural Resources Canada. “It is a series of earthquakes, which is rare. But what is particularly unusual about what is happening in McAdam is that it is basically happening directly beneath the village — and at a depth of less than one kilometre.
“When these earthquake swarms occur they are typically in a remote area where nobody feels them.”
Mr. Halchuk can’t say how long the earthquakes will continue for, or if a big one, capable of causing serious property damage and endangering lives, could be lurking among all the little ones.
“We can never say never,” he says. “I wouldn’t rule out a very large event occurring but, typically, in situations like this, the magnitude of the earthquakes is modest and doesn’t increase.”
Researchers from the University of New Brunswick addressed community members at an atypical town hall meeting Monday night, answering questions and assuaging lingering fears. One working theory they have to explain the quakes is an early spring thaw. A rapid change in groundwater levels could, perhaps, be causing the underlying rocks to slip and stress, unleashing the multiple shocks.
‘You sometimes won’t know if it’s the kids or if it was an earthquake’
Moody, Connecticut, is another tiny town with an earthquake problem, one dating back hundreds of years and which, today, is the basis of the local high school’s team name: The Noises. The noises in McAdam, meanwhile, have been described by the locals as a loud “bang,” a “boom,” “like dynamite being blown up,” and “a loud thud, like somebody falling out of bed.”
Natural Resources and UNB have installed three seismographs in the village to monitor the situation and to flesh out their working hypotheses. One of the machines is in David Blair’s basement.
“They are not paying me for it,” he says, laughing. “It’s just volunteer. The government doesn’t have any money except to pay its MPs and MLAs.”
Connie Klein is the village clerk. She doesn’t really like talking to the media, or the academics, because she doesn’t really know what to say. But, when she does talk, she explains how the quakes, to her, have become another noise — in her otherwise tranquil village — a sharp “bang” as though someone were upstairs in her house and dropped an encyclopedia on the floor while she was downstairs washing the dishes.
“You might jump for a second,” she says.
But then you get on with your day.
And Tuesday, in McAdam, was one for the ages. The sun was blasting hot and talk of the unusual April weather — and not whether the Earth was about to split open and swallow the place whole — was on everybody’s lips.
“It has been really nice here,” Ms. Klein says. “In fact, it’s actually too hot.”
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