Earthquake Simulation Rattles Ottawa County

Wednesday, October 13th 2010, 6:23 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley, News On 6

MIAMI, Oklahoma -- A man-made earthquake shook parts of Ottawa County Wednesday.

A group of scientists has been studying how to protect bridges during an earthquake. The big test came Wednesday, of all days, in Riverview Park in Miami.

10/13/2010 Related Story: 4.3 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Central Oklahoma, Felt Across Five States

They've got the computers, they've got the cameras, and they've got an earthquake machine. All set up on the banks of the Neosho River in Miami.  Scientists from OU, Iowa State, and UCLA have spent weeks preparing to create an earthquake. They're testing what it does to the support pilings that hold bridges.

"We know pretty well what happens up above the ground but soil is still a big unknown," Dr. Bob Nigbor, UCLA said.

They want to avoid deadly scenes like one from the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco.

"If the pile fails the building is going to topple, essentially. So it's key to have the foundation behaving adequately in an earthquake condition," said Sri Sritharan, Iowa State University.

The timing of Wednesday's test is quite ironic, coming on the same day Oklahoma experiences a real earthquake. While we don't have the big one's like on the west coast, the scientists say this technology could come in handy here in Oklahoma.

"When you have the magnitude 8 over in the Mississippi River it'll shake five times harder than you got shaken today in Norman, even though it's farther away and then you will be glad you had some small measure of seismic protection," Dr. Nigbor said.

The tests are short, much like a real earthquake. Each one simulates the stress of a magnitude 8 earthquake, which is rare, but the scientists say it's important to go beyond normal to see how the pilings respond.

As for the coincidence of Wednesday's test, the researchers found it amusing and maybe just bit appropriate.

"We call ourselves earthquake engineers, maybe we engineer earthquakes," Dr. Nigbor said.

The information from Wednesday's test will be used by private companies immediately but it could be several years before the technology is actually incorporated into bridge structures.