Alaska Quake Monitoring Threatened by Cutbacks

May 8, 2017

Funding cuts from a wide variety of sources are raising the risk that Alaska may lose constant earthquake monitoring and analysis performed by the Alaska Regional Seismic Network, officials have said.

Staffing at the agency is down to 14 employees from 20 in 2013 and state funding for the network has dropped from $800,000 to projections of $588,000 next year. The network has also been hit with decreases from other funding sources.

“A perfect storm of reductions from many directions have coincided to compromise the shared-funding model,” state seismologist Michael West told the Juneau Empire in a story published Wednesday.

If an earthquake happens in the middle of the night or on a weekend, the state might no longer have somebody on duty to read the data. Response would be handled by a computer.

As of last summer, the network could no longer afford to maintain its network of 150 seismic instruments spread across the state.

“The suspension of most maintenance has begun to directly impact the performance of the network,” West wrote in a letter to network users on March 16.

Peter Haeussler, a research geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, said his agency relies on the state center and on regional earthquake measuring centers across the U.S.

“We depend on them as the authoritative seismic network for a significant part of Alaska,” he said. “Without that seismic network in place, we wouldn’t know where those earthquakes occurred, what has happened.”

The University of Alaska has been in charge of monitoring earthquakes since 1987, and university funding is also down.

Epicenters of earthquakes in Alaska on Monday morning would have been identified more quickly if more funding had been in place, West said.

“We are not that far here from stopping 24/7 response,” he said.

Alaska depends on data from the network for infrastructure projects like construction of roads and bridges and so authorities and residents are aware of public safety threats, he said.

“Much of what we call research has direct, measurable, economic and life-safety implications for the state,” he said.

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