January 22, 2010

Earthquakes in Maine?



     On January 12,2010, Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter Scale. It was followed by some one hundred aftershocks, the worst of which, registered 6.1 and occurred on January 21.          Amidst the reports of the tragedy, I pondered what earthquake risks existed where I currently live: Southwestern Pennsylvania. I have a faint recall of minor tremors occurring one time while living in Slippery Rock (between 1969-1982). In 1998, while living in New Castle, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake hit Western Pennsylvania*. Of this, I recall people telling of their china closets and windows rattling.    Between fall 2006 and spring 2007, a sequence of earthquakes took place near the town of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine**. We were traveling along our typical coastal route between Newport, Rhode Island and Lamoine Beach, Maine. I was a little bit nervous about it, but we went anyway. Below is the journal entry I wrote about being there at that time. 

     October 10, 2006: from the Ellsworth Public Library, in Ellsworth, Maine.

     Although I really wanted to travel to Lamoine, Maine, this visit was filled with trepidation and apprehension.

     While in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town we always visited during our New England travels because it was my childhood hometown, my husband and I heard rumblings on news reports about an earthquake on Mount Desert Island—the location of Bar Harbor. The island is just across the Narrows, the strip of water separating Mount Desert Island from Maine’s mainland. Lamoine Beach, our final destination, is on the eastern end of the Narrows, where it borders onto Frenchman Bay.

     I thought about the California folks who routinely experience earthquakes, then about the Maine people for whom the natural phenomenon is not common. It couldn’t have been anything to be concerned about. There were no news reports about further earthquake events that followed the brief one we’d heard on the car radio.

     We left Portsmouth and stopped in the Bath, Maine, area. While there, news reports told of a cleanup being done on Mount Desert Island’s Loop Road. The mess was created by yet another earthquake, this one registering 3.9 on the Richter scale. I didn’t know then that the area was experiencing a series of earthquakes, the largest measured on the Richter scale as being 4.2 magnitude. It closed several hiking trails and a road on Mt. Desert Island**.

     Hmmm, things seemed to be worsening. I began to question our destination, but not too much. I really wanted to visit Lamoine Beach! (To view illustration click on:

     We stayed in a motel in Ellsworth, the larger town near Lamoine and the Hancock County seat. On our second night we received a phone call from Martha, who is researching some of the same family lines as I am. We had been playing telephone tag. She was it. I was tagged. She called from just outside our motel room door, so we invited her in.

     Martha works on Mount Desert Island and lives near Ellsworth. Here’s her take on the earthquakes.

     “The first three earthquakes I didn’t feel,” she said, noting the center of one was in Otter Creek three miles out of town.

     The first THREE? Things were worse than I thought!

     Her friend in Stocton Springs, a good distance away, felt the quakes. Martha didn’t.

     “The first was at four a. m.,” she continued. “I was sleeping.”

     The last earthquake, the fourth, was different. At 3.9 on the Richter scale, it was centered off Great Head (did I get the location title correct?), one mile out from Sand Beach, Bar Harbor.

     “It vibrated me right to my core,” Martha said about the rumblings that hit while she was at work on the island. “I’ve been in San Francisco earthquakes, but it’s built for it. I don’t expect this here in Maine.”

     People in the restaurant where she works asked if they should get out of the building, she said.

     “But people from California in the restaurant were saying it wasn’t even an earthquake.”

      Martha noted that the difference in intensity between a 3.5 and 4.5 earthquake is ten times. Intensity increases exponentially with the Richter scale number. The first earthquake was 3.4, another 1.8.

     She doesn’t know if the earth’s plates are shifting or a new fault is forming. What she is sure of is that there’ll be more earthquakes here in Maine.

     Martha noted that the USGS has two test wells in Acadia Park, where the water level usually has a three to four inch fluctuation. She said after the quakes there was a three to four foot fluctuation.

     I’d been concerned about tsunamis during our visit to the coast—those gigantuan waves that follow under-ocean quakes or ice glaciers breaking apart. I wasn’t expecting the possibility of experiencing an earthquake.

     “It was scary, but not frighteningly scary,” according to Martha.

     All I can say is I’m grateful no quake struck during our climb up Schoodic Mountain—or our visit to the Ovens, the rock caves on the Narrows coastline of Mount Desert Island. They are exposed only during low tide. (to view illustration of view from top of Schoodic Mountain, click on: . To view The Ovens, click on: )

     I don’t want to experience some things during my lifetime, including earthquakes and tsunamis!

ADDENDUM:  My opinion remains the same, and is perhaps intensified, especially after the media reports from the severe earthquake in Haiti. Please keep the victims and the rescue persons in your thoughts and prayers during this trying time.


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