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Science, Maths & Technology

Market Rasen earthquake

Updated Wednesday, 27th February 2008

Dave Rothery reports on a surprising earthquake in Lincolnshire and the possibility of a supervolcano eruption in the Yellowstone Park.

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27 February 2008, I get up bleary eyed at 06:00 because it has been arranged that I will do an interview for local radio about supervolcanoes and the Earth's poles changing. I turn on my laptop, and put the kettle on. Even while the tea is brewing the phone rings. It's the production assistant: "Good morning. We'll be ready for you in two minutes. Have you heard about the earthquake?"

"Oh, has there been another one in Sumatra?"

"No, in England."

As the author of a book and an Open University course about volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis I'm happy to talk about this sort of thing, but I have barely time to locate the event on the internet where the US Geological Survey reports it as 4.7 on the Richter scale, before I'm on on air.

"Did you feel it?" I'm asked. The presenter is shocked when I say I was asleep so I didn't feel it.

"Lots of people felt it," he says.

I explain that except for those close to the epicentre, in order to notice this quake people would probably need to be awake, and be sitting down, rather than moving around or driving. Then talk moves on to supervolcanoes,  so we discuss the eruption at Toba 74,000 years ago and the possibility of another supervolcanic eruption at Yellowstone, before the Earth's poles come up - and it seems someone has used the Mayan calendar to claim the the Earth's magnetic poles will change in 2012. I say this is nonesense, and explain that the magnetic poles are slowly wandering about all the time.

The interview ends, and then I notice a message on my mobile phone from a nearby friend who had been worken up by the quake. Her dogs began to bark, and then the bunglow started to 'undulate' . Oh, err - maybe I was a bit too hasty on the radio when I said most people would need to be awake to have felt it. On my way to work I visit the stables to muck out my horse, and of the half dozen people I speak to there most of them felt it, and by the time I get to work a colleague living in Milton Keynes has emailed me this: "I was woken up in the middle of the night with the house shaking quite strongly, pictures ratling on the walls as these are these are the less than sturdily built 'Lakes' estate houses. Having lived in Japan I was pretty certain it was an earthquake but just couldn't believe it".

So, if you felt it, I encourage you to visit the British Geological Survey earthquakes site and fill in their on-line questionannaire. The more reports of where it was felt and what it was like, the more accurate a picutre can be put togther of how the ground shaking waves spread away from their source in Lincolnshire.

This was a fairly large quake by UK standards (the BGS reports it as 5.2, as opposed to the USGS estimate of 4.7), but, despite all the drama experienced by those who felt it, it was puny by global standards as this map of earthquakes in the past week shows. We don't live near the edge of a teconic plate, so earthquakes are far less common here than, for example, round the rim of the Pacific, or beneath Indonesia.

Market Rasen earthquake inline 1 Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: USGS
This week's earthquakes (past 24 hours in orange), which shows how small and insignificant the Market Rasen earthquake was in the grand scheme of things.





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