State seismologist calls for funds to keep expanded seismic monitoring program

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The state seismologist appeared before the Senate Education Committee Thursday to describe an expanded seismic monitoring program that would need state and federal funds to survive.

The National Scientific Foundation began placing 80 seismic monitoring stations across the state in 2014. Dr. Michael West, the state seismologist, says they have been invaluable in allowing the Alaska Earthquake Center to monitor earthquakes.

The NSF is slated to remove the stations in 2020 as their scientific program is finishing. The Alaska Earthquake Center is petitioning for federal agencies and the state to take ownership of the stations at a cost of around $48 million over 10 years.

The bulk of funds would come from the feds, but West says the state would need to provide around $5 million in capital funds as “something to help seed this project.”

“When we compare ourselves to the Lower 48, we simply don't have the tools that would be available in other places,” said West. He explained that without the stations, the seismic monitoring ability of the state was similar to an astronomer trying to work with binoculars; with the stations, was like having the Hubble Telescope.

The stations are said to be helpful in writing building codes, studying weather and atmospheric events and risks to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

West spoke about the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck near Kaktovik in August of 2018, the largest earthquake to ever hit the North Slope. Twelve of the closest monitoring stations were part of the NSF project.

Senate Minority leader Tom Begich, D - Anchorage, said he wasn’t aware of the program before Thursday’s committee meeting, but expressed interest in retaining it, particularly for its application in the North Slope.

A statement from the Senate Majority read that “the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate will have time to consider funding for that program and weigh it against other state needs.”

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