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Alaska earthquake affects Florida wells

Lazaro Aleman: Greene Publishing, Inc.

What happens in Alaska doesn't necessarily stay in Alaska, at least not when it involves an earthquake and seismic waves.

News outlets reported last week that the recent earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska caused vibrations to travel through the earth and briefly affect water levels in water wells as far away as the Sunshine State. According to the Weather Company, whose self-described primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit in the Gulf of Alaska near Kodiak Island on Tuesday, Jan. 23 caused small variations in the water level in wells in Ft. Lauderdale and Madison.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the scientific agency that monitors such events, the USGS reported that the water level rose .18 feet in a well near Madison, from 41.59 feet to 41.77 feet, and it dropped .11 feet in a well near Ft. Lauderdale, from 1.42 feet to 1.31 feet.

"Water levels in wells respond to the seismic-wave induced expansion and contraction of the aquifer tapped by the well, in turn causing step or oscillatory fluid-pressure changes," said USGS. The phenomenon is known as a “hydro-geologic response.”

The agency explained the phenomenon a little more transparent for laypersons by comparing it to the effect on a glass of water when a train or big truck passes nearby. “Think of it as the ripples in a glass of water on a table when a truck drives by outside,” said a USGS official. The hydro-geologic response, in fact, has been documented for decades, according to the USGS.

“Water wells have become turbid, dry or begun flowing, discharge of springs and ground water to streams has increased, new springs have formed, and well and surface-water quality have become degraded as a result of earthquakes,” said a USGS official.

In fact, changes in groundwater levels occurring hundreds and even thousands of miles away from a earthquake's epicenter are not uncommon, according to the Weather Company. It cites a 1964 earthquake in Alaska that affected 716 wells in the United States mainland. Another Alaska earthquake that it cites caused a Wisconsin well to rise two feet in 2002.

Sometimes, the Weather Company reports, the effects can be long lasting. It points to a 5.2 magnitude temblor in northwest Pennsylvania in 1998 that left about 120 home wells dry for about three months.

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