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Retired Chief Geologist of the Arkansas Geological Survey to Speak at Hobbs State Park on Arkansas Earthquakes – The Big One is Coming

03 Apr 2019 2:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Although small earthquakes do occur in northwest Arkansas there is little known risk to the general population.  The faults that these earthquakes emanate from are not generally identified as they cause no surface offsets. The greatest risk of serious damage due to earthquakes is northeast Arkansas and one day we will need to assist them in the damage recovery efforts.

According to John David McFarland, retired Arkansas Chief Geologist, “Arkansas is at great risk of experiencing a large damaging earthquake in the not too distant future.  Recent studies suggest that this threat is as great today as at any time in the last hundred years.  Each day that goes by brings us one day closer to a catastrophe the likes of which we have not seen in modern times here in Arkansas.  In 1811-1812 a series of seismic events struck the northeast Arkansas - Missouri boot heel region, what is now generally called the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), in such numbers and with such intensities that it took a full century for the area to fully recover. 

Today's modern society is even less resistant to the potential for damage than the world of the early 1800s.  Although current understanding supports the view that great earthquakes (magnitude 8 and larger) are not very likely to occur for several hundred years, large damaging shocks (magnitudes between 6 and 7.9) are in fact, overdue.

In order to understand the damage potential of a major seismic event we only have to look at the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California.  That earthquake has been rated at a magnitude of 7.1.  It resulted in billions of dollars in damage and killed over 60 people.  A similar sized event in Arkansas could do at least as much damage and there are several geologic considerations that strongly suggest that it would likely cause significantly more wide-spread devastation than the Loma Prieta event.  Further, the impact of such a tragedy on this state's overall economy would spread that adversity throughout the state and extend the recovery period over many years.  Severe disruptions of utilities and lifelines, banking and finance, and agriculture are specifically projected following such an event.

As there is nothing we can do to stop or prevent earthquakes our only hope is to understand them and the forces that they produce.  With knowledge comes resilience.  With knowledge comes the security of effective preparation.  With knowledge comes proficient and efficient recovery after the fact.  Earthquake processes are so complex that no model or theory developed elsewhere for another fault zone can clearly predict the action of a New Madrid earthquake on the people and infrastructure of this state in a specific way.  It is only by monitoring local seismic activity and measuring the response of our infrastructure to these local events that we will gain insight into the impact that a massive seismic displacement will have. “

The upcoming program at Hobbs State Park on Arkansas Earthquakes will be presented by John David McFarland, who was Chairman of the Arkansas Earthquake Advisory Council for 21 years.  (The Council was formed to assist people, business, and emergency planners of the parts of the state where earthquakes may be a realistic problem.  Among many other activities the Council helped design earthquake building codes for Arkansas.) 

McFarland’s presentation is free and the public is invited.  

Where: Hobbs State Park visitor center on Highway 12 just east of the Hwy 12/War Eagle Road intersection

When: Sunday April 7, 2019 at 2:00 p.m.

Cost: Free

For more information on Hobbs State Park programs, trails, picnicking, or meeting room rentals:   Call:  479-789-5000 

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