When Steve Walter told his mom he was being sent to Kansas to put in seismometers, her response was, "What?!"
Walter is a geologist with the US Geological Survey. He and geophysicist Jem Erdem flew out from California May 5th to set up seismometers in Southeast Kansas.
Eyewitness News caught up with them at a farm in Sumner County on their last stop before flying back.
"We're installing one of seven seismometers that we've put in the area," said Walter. "Earthquakes have seemed to follow the oil development in Kansas as the oil companies have come in and started producing, the earthquakes seemed to come with them from Oklahoma. So we are trying to pin down the relationship, are the earthquakes related to the oil production and if the are what part of it? Also, trying to figure out where these earthquakes are occurring."
The seismometer is being placed in a garage or shed beside Leonard Rinehart's home. Rinehart remembers feeling an earthquake not too long ago.
"We was setting in the house, in the chair and felt something," said Rinehart. "Wasn't much, but you could feel something was going on. We just looked at each other like, 'What was that?' And figured out it was an earthquake!"
He found the whole process of setting up the seismometers pretty fascinating and was happy to have the USGS there to track the recent shaking.
There are two seismometers placed in his garage, both serve a different function. One measures "strong motion energy" which is what does damage in an earthquake. The second collects widespread motion, feeling "energy waves moving around the world."
"This is a temporary network, we're looking at 1-2 years, if the earthquakes pick up ,continue, move into new areas, we'll reconsider at that point," said Walter.
An app on Walter's iPhone shows real time seismograph of what the seismometers are picking up. It will show any sort of shaking, like wind or vehicles coming in and leaving, but that shouldn't disrupt the seismometers job.
"When an earthquake happens you see that impulsive event, unless it's incredibly noisy, you'll be bale to see the earthquake," he said. "If he's driving his tractor in here and an earthquake happens at the same time, we may not be able to use this station, but that's why we have multiple stations because the next station over is not going to be feeling his tractor."
The information gathered will then be sent back to the USGS office in Menlo Park, California.
There's now nine total seismometers in SE Kansas and more will be coming this summer.
Though most of the earthquakes in Kansas are fairly small, some not even able to be detected by people living nearby, if a large earthquake were to hit, that would mean large amounts of damage in an area not built to withstand that sort of activity. Walter said the damage would be worse than the same earthquake happening in California, but not only for that reason.
"Just because the bed rock here tends to transmit the energy more efficiently," he said. "The rocks in California are more fractured and broken up and it absorbs the energy as it moves out. Here is moves out without any absorption to speak of and is felt over a wide area, tends to be a bit stronger."
He said the biggest problem will come from those building made of brick and masonry.