USGS detects minor earthquake in Wendell 

  • A screenshot from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the approximate location of a 2.4-magnitude earthquake that hit Wendell Friday evening. SCREENSHOT

  • A U.S. Geological Survey map shows survey results of residents who say they felt a minor 2.4-magnitude earthquake that hit Wendell Friday night. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2022 4:55:54 PM
Modified: 3/6/2022 4:55:19 PM

WENDELL — Residents of eastern Franklin County may have felt their homes shake a little Friday evening, and no, it wasn’t a large truck driving through town. Rather, the region was hit with a detectable earthquake, which is an extremely rare occurrence.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) confirmed that a 2.4-magnitude earthquake occurred Friday at approximately 5:50 p.m., marking the first Franklin County earthquake detected by USGS seismographs since at least January 2010. It marks the first one in the Pioneer Valley since a 1.9-magnitude quake — which was likely not felt by anybody — was detected in Northampton in 2012, according to a USGS database.

A 2.4-magnitude earthquake is considered very minor and is “usually not felt, but can be recorded by seismograph,” according to Michigan Technological University’s Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences.

Very minor earthquakes happen usually once or twice a year in New England, according to USGS. Moderate earthquakes happen every few decades and the last one to cause a significant amount of damage was a 5.6-magnitude quake in central New Hampshire in 1940.

Friday’s Wendell quake, which occurred around 3.5 kilometers below the surface, is the fourth in a series of minor earthquakes that have hit New England over the past month, according to USGS data. A 2.9-magnitude quake — the strongest of the bunch — struck in Gorham, New Hampshire on Feb. 4. A 1.9-magnitude quake again hit Gorham on Feb. 16, and a 1.8-magnitude earthquake hit Contoocook, New Hampshire the following day. The two late-February quakes, however, were so minor that no human would detect them, as anything under a 2.0 on the magnitude scale can only be detected by a seismograph, according to the University of Washington.

In fact, the USGS has registered 30 earthquakes since January 2021 in New England, each one registering under 3.0 magnitude.

Earthquakes on the East Coast are much less frequent than on the West Coast and pinpointing their exact locations is also difficult. They occur at shallower depths, but the Appalachian Mountains and the makeup of tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface complicate the search as the region is “laced with known faults, but numerous smaller or deeply buried faults remain undetected,” according to the USGS. This means scientists cannot always determine which faults are slipping and causing the quakes.

An email to the Eastern U.S. media representative of USGS was not returned by press time. Several phone calls to local geological departments at area universities over the weekend were also not returned.

Anyone who felt the earthquake in Wendell Friday night can help contribute to citizen science by filling out a brief USGS survey at https://on.doi.gov/35z0cSz.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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