Aftershocks of Utah's Crandall Canyon mine collapse maybe bigger than originally thought

Published on April 22, 2013 at 2:40 AM · No Comments

A new University of Utah study has identified hundreds of previously unrecognized small aftershocks that happened after Utah's deadly Crandall Canyon mine collapse in 2007. The aftershocks suggest the collapse was as big - and perhaps bigger - than shown in another study by the university in 2008.

Mapping out the locations of the aftershocks "helps us better delineate the extent of the collapse at Crandall canyon. It's gotten bigger," says Tex Kubacki, a University of Utah master's student in mining engineering.

"We can see now that, prior to the collapse, the seismicity was occurring where the mining was taking place, and that after the collapse, the seismicity migrated to both ends of the collapse zone," including the mine's west end, he adds.

Kubacki was scheduled to present the findings Friday in Salt Lake City during the Seismological Society of America's 2013 annual meeting.

Six coal miners died in the Aug. 6, 2007 mine collapse, and three rescuers died 10 days later. The mine's owner initially blamed the collapse on an earthquake, but the University of Utah Seismograph Stations said it was the collapse itself, not an earthquake, that registered on seismometers.

A 2008 study by University of Utah seismologist Jim Pechmann found the epicenter of the collapse was near where the miners were working, and aftershocks showed the collapse area covered 50 acres, four times larger than originally thought, extending from crosscut 120 on the east to crosscut 143 on the west, where miners worked. A crosscut is a north-south tunnel intersecting the mine's main east-west tunnels.

In the new study, the collapse area "looks like it goes farther west - to the full extent of the western end of the mine, Kubacki says.

Study co-author Michael "Kim" McCarter, a University of Utah professor of mining engineering, says the findings are tentative, but "might extend the collapse farther west." He is puzzled because "some of that is in an area where no mining had occurred."

Kubacki says one theory is that the seismic events at the west end and some of those at the eastern end of the mine may be caused by "faulting forming along a cone of collapse" centered over the mine.

Kubacki and McCarter conducted the new study with seismologists Keith Koper and Kris Pankow of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations. McCarter and Pankow also coauthored the 2008 study.

Before the new study, researchers knew of about 55 seismic events - down to magnitude 1.6 - near the mine before and after the collapse, which measured 3.9 on the local magnitude scale and 4.1 on the "moment" magnitude scale that better reflects energy release, Kubacki says.

The new study analyzed records of seismometers closest to the mine for evidence of tremors down to magnitudes minus-1, which Kubacki says is about one-tenth the energy released by a hand grenade. "We've discovered up to about 2,000 previously unknown events spanning from July 26 to Aug. 30, 2007," Kubacki says, although some of the weak-evidence events may turn out not to be real or to be unrelated to the collapse.

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