Kennecott Slides Caused Earthquakes

Jan 6, 2014

  The huge landslides that shut down Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon copper mine last year were bad news for the company, but they’ve yielded a scientific breakthrough for researchers at the University of Utah.

  That’s a recording of the seismic waves from one of the landslides that sent 165-million tons of rock from the top to the bottom of the Kennecott mine on April 10th. 

Seismologist Kristine Pankow says what follows are two small earthquakes.

“The audio of the second landslide is a really low rumbling," Pankow tells KUER. " It has really low frequencies associated with it.  Unlike the earthquakes, which are high frequency events that sound more like a pop.”

The recordings are sped up 30 times to bring the sounds into the range of human hearing. 

Landslides caused by earthquakes are nothing new, but geology professor Jeff Moore says this was exactly the opposite.

Moore tells KUER, "To our knowledge, there’s never been a study before that’s been able to conclusively demonstrate this link between a landslide and the associated unloading and reloading of the crust and what this does to the stress state, and in fact, that that can trigger earthquakes.”

There are lots of seismographs located around the Wasatch Front, and the scientists say that allowed them to get very accurate readings of the different seismic waves.

Their study is being published in this month’s issue of the Geological Society of America magazine GSA Today.