IU Bloomington sensors pick up California earthquake

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An unwelcome wake-up call shook northern California early Sunday morning, wrecking buildings, starting fires and sending dozens to the hospital.

"California, of course, has very dense populations in at-risk areas. So, immediately there's concern that an earthquake this size could produce significant damage in a fairly localized area around the epicenter," said Indiana University Seismologist Dr. Michael Hamburger.

Hamburger said initial estimates put damage in the tens of millions of dollars.

"It's part of that general system of sheering, where the Pacific Plate on the west is sheering past the North American Plate," Hamburger explained.

Even though Hoosiers could not physically feel the earthquake in Indiana, very specific, sensitive equipment at IU Bloomington picked up the way the Earth moved.

"The Earth, in a sense, is vibrating like a bell. Once a strong earthquake happens, the waves are traveling around the Earth," explained Hamburger. "Here we are a couple thousand miles away from the earthquake, and we're recording significant motion on these very remote sensors."

Hamburger said the data shows the earthquake was likely shallow.

"It tends to be worse for damage. It produces stronger shaking, close to the source," Hamburger added.

The risk for even more aftershocks is not over.

"[There is] the potential it could trigger other seismic activity at neighboring faults. And the next few days and weeks, there will be a heightened alert."

Seismologists at IU, Purdue and the University of Illinois are all working with the Indiana and Illinois state geological surveys on a bigger project tracking earthquakes. They hope to get a better understanding of earthquake risk in the Midwest.