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Earthquake Awareness Day Punctuates Earth Science Week

SOCORRO, N.M. October 7, 2009 -- New Mexico Tech and the state Bureau of Geology are taking special notice of Earth Science Week in 2009.

The national Earth Science Week is October 11 to 17, 2009, as designated by the American Geological Institute. This year's theme is "Understanding Climate." Governor Bill Richardson issued a proclamation declaring this same week as Earth Science Week in New Mexico.

Scientists at the Bureau and the university have prepared five special radio features about geology and Earth science that will air on KUNM 89.9 during Earth Science Week. Nelia Dunbar, Mike Timmons, Stacy Timmons, Dave Love and Rick Aster each wrote a two-minute feature about their specialty. The recordings will also be available on the websites of the Bureau, New Mexico Tech and KUNM. Each of the five radio spots focuses on a different aspect of New Mexico geologic history.

The five radio spots will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, October 12 to 16.

This map shows seismic activity in New Mexico over the past century. Courtesy New Mexico Tech Earth and Environmental Science Department. The poster titled "Earthquakes in New Mexico and the Socorro Magma Body" is viewable on the internet.

One particular goal of the special week is to promote understanding of how citizens are affected by the natural environment. While California’s earthquake hazards are well-known, New Mexico has a moderately active seismic region.

On October 15, California is organizing a ShakeOut event, which educates and empowers residents across the state to prepare for a damaging earthquake. New Mexico Tech also has designated Thursday, Oct. 15, as Earthquake Awareness Day.

According to seismologists at New Mexico Tech, earthquakes occur in most parts of the state. The Socorro area has been the most active region in New Mexico for at least the past 150 years. (See map at right).

During the last 45 years, nearly half of the seismic energy generated by earthquakes in New Mexico has been released in a region centered near Socorro that includes only about two percent of the state's total land area.

This activity is caused by the Socorro Magma Body, an inflating body of molten rock that covers roughly 1,300 square miles about 12 miles beneath the surface. (See second graphic below).

Earthquake swarms, defined as series of earthquakes recurring for days in nearly the same location within minutes of each other, are very common in the Socorro region. The majority of the earthquakes in these swarms are shallow (3 to 8 miles beneath the surface), and relatively small (magnitude less than 1.0). The most recent swarm occurred in August 2009, with the largest event at magnitude 2.6.

The largest earthquakes of record in this region occurred during an earthquake swarm in 1906, with maximum magnitude estimated at 6.18. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there is an 18 percent chance of a large earthquake (magnitude greater than 6.0) in the Socorro region in the next 100 years. Earthquakes of this strength can cause personal injury and extensive structural damage. For more information on New Mexico earthquakes please see the New Mexico Tech Geophysics website.

The Socorro Magma body

California’s ShakeOut website and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website provide resources, links, and fact sheets to help prepare for an earthquake.

The Earthquake Survival Program sponsored by Los Angeles County has 12 fact sheets on earthquake survival (what to do before, during and after a quake).

News clippings about the 1906 Socorro earthquake. These clips are featured in the poster "Earthquakes in New Mexico and the Socorro Magma Body."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides three fact sheets to help everyone prepare for an earthquake, along with links to cooperating agencies that respond to earthquakes and other disasters. http://www.fema.gov/hazard/earthquake/index.shtm

Earth Science Week is important to New Mexico because our enchanted landscapes offer more than scenic beauty. The spectacular geology of our state is a world-renowned natural laboratory for scientists studying the history and evolution of the Earth, ranging from the recent past, through to the age of the dinosaurs, and even back to our mysterious distant planetary past billions of years ago.

New Mexico is also richly endowed with natural resources such as minerals, water, oil and gas, forests, wildlife, and astonishingly diverse recreational opportunities. A pressing challenge today is to maintain a healthy, environment while enjoying and sustaining these resources.

New Mexico scientists provide hard data and analysis about climate change, pollution, geologic hazards, mineral resources, and supplies of fossil fuels and water.  These studies benefit our state through increased Earth science awareness in citizens of all ages. A strong Earth science presence in our schools creates better-informed citizens to help ensure that we make the best decisions for our future on these critical issues.

New Mexico Tech is a world-respected institution in Earth science education and research. The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, which is located on campus at New Mexico Tech, conducts teacher workshops on geology and earthquake hazards each summer.

The Bureau also provides AGI-sponsored Earth Science Week planning toolkits to teachers, and promotes Earth Science Week at teacher open houses and other science-related events each fall.

Year-round, the Bureau produces and distributes diverse publications, materials and information to the public, and responds to requests from teachers for curriculum materials including rock and mineral samples, maps and lesson plans. Earth Matters, a Bureau publication that informs the public about important natural resource issues, is mailed to several thousand readers across the state twice each year.

The New Mexico Tech Earth and Environmental Science Department provides critical Earth science education for New Mexico and the nation by educating students from bachelor’s level up to the Ph.D. level. The department also carries out world-recognized research in geology, geochemistry, geophysics and hydrology, and EES faculty interact frequently with New Mexico’s public schools and the general public through education and outreach lectures, radio and televison specials, and other activities. Alumni of the Department hold key industry, government and academic roles in New Mexico, the U.S. and around the world.

Reaching adults with the latest information in Earth science is critical to promoting policies that contribute to a healthy and sustainable environment and to a prosperous society. The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Department of Earth Science regularly work with decision makers in New Mexico and Washington, D.C., with resource agency and educational partners and with the schools, media and general public to communicate science that is critical to a well-informed society.

Celebrating our planet and its remarkable history, promoting responsible environmental stewardship and establishing sustainable natural resource management are goals we can strive for all year. During Earth Science Week, we will focus on increasing Earth science awareness in the citizens of New Mexico. To find out more about celebrating Earth Science Week and to view the governor’s proclamation, please visit the Web site at www.earthsciweek.org.

– NMT –