Earthquake swarm hits Yakutat

About 30 earthquakes have hit the Yakutat area this week.

The Gulf of Alaska city, about 250 miles northwest of Juneau, is in a fault zone and quakes aren’t unusual.

Download Audio

Two glaciers flow into Yakutat Bay. Glacial calving causes regular, but small, earthquakes. The Hubbard Glacier, right, sometimes surges, blocking off an arm of the bay. (Photo courtesy Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve)
Two glaciers flow into Yakutat Bay. Glacial calving causes regular, but small, earthquakes. The Hubbard Glacier, right, sometimes surges, blocking off an arm of the bay. (Photo courtesy Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve)

But this swarm is caused by calving glaciers in a nearby bay, not movement of the Earth’s crust.

Alaska Earthquake Information Center Seismologist Natalia Ruppert says it happens all the time. But she says at least one of this week’s quakes were stronger than usual.

“Maybe the size of this particular ice chunk was very large and as it fell into the water it created lots of energy,” Ruppert said.

She says there’s no connection to the Yakutat Fault, and a block of the Earth’s crust that’s slowly moving under that part of Alaska.

Most glaciers are retreating and thinning as climate change increases melting.

Seismologist Ruppert says that could eventually lead to more quakes from moving blocks of crust.

“If the glaciers keep melting and if they keep losing the mass, the pressure on the surface of the Earth becomes less,” Ruppert said. “And so, on a very long time scale, the lessening of this pressure might actually influence the tectonic forces and the pressure on the faults in that area.”

Since Monday morning, 28 glacial quakes have hit the Yakutat Bay area. Another 11 hit Cape Yakataga, about 100 miles to the northwest. That’s as of midday Thursday.

SHARE
Previous articleDoyon Announces New Oil & Gas Prospect Near Nenana
Next articleSentencing begins in Anchorage hit-and-run cyclist case
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.