More Funding Needed to Maintain Alaska Earthquake Sensors

December 27, 2019

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A project that maintains seismic monitoring stations in Alaska needs more funding to continue fully operating, officials said.

Scientists, lawmakers and federal agencies are promoting the permanent installation of the Transportable Array Network, The Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

The National Science Foundation project was installed temporarily beginning in 2014.

The stations can monitor earthquake activity and track weather, wildfires and volcanoes. The system can also detect North Korean nuclear testing, officials said.

Many of the network’s stations in northern and western Alaska are set to be removed over the next two years if funding is not secured to maintain them permanently, officials said.

The Alaska Earthquake Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks took over 43 stations in southeast Alaska in September, officials said.

“This is the kind of opportunity that only comes around once a generation,” said Michael West, a state seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Center. “And we’ve been doing everything we can to see that this doesn’t all evaporate.”

The center operates through an external grant on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey, but it will need more funds to support the monitoring network for the long term.

Permits for the stations will need to be renewed if they stay in the ground, officials said.

The Alaska Earthquake Center requested $2.5 million in state funding to help maintain the network, money that would go to the University of Alaska.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy included the funding in his recent capital budget. Dunleavy vetoed a similar request in the last budget, but spokesman Jeff Turner said that was because of a lack of time to assess the project.

State funding is used to buy more stations and entice federal investment in the project, but additional funding is needed to maintain them. The center is looking for federal partners that would benefit from the data, West said.

“I think it’s fair to say that we are in the 11th hour,” West said.

About the photo: The A21K seismic monitoring station in Barrow, Alaska shown. Courtesy of National Science Foundation.

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