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High-Flying Research Over The New Madrid Seismic Zone

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(Blytheville, AR) For the next few weeks, a team with the U.S. Geological Survey will be flying above the New Madrid Seismic Zone conducting important research.

A specially equipped single-engine airplane will be taking magnetic readings along what is considered the most active earthquake zone in the U.S. east of the Rockies.

The plane is based in Blytheville, Arkansas and will study 1,800 square miles of the fault zone.

Richard Blakely is a USGS Geophysicist conducting important research along the active New Madrid Seismic Zone.

"We think there's the potential for an earthquake sometime in the future," he said. "And knowledge is better than no knowledge. And that is why we're here."

The USGS's research is being done from the clouds.

An experimental Cessna 180, with a sensitive magnetometer on its tail, is doing the high-flying research.

"We are measuring the magnetic field of the earth, as close to the ground as we can safely fly," Blakely said.

By flying a pre-determined grid, the magnetometer will provide a three-dimensional image of the New Madrid Zone and reveal the type of rocks and sediment that make the zone continue to produce quakes of varying strength,

Michael Hobbs, vice president of Airborne Acquisition, the company that outfitted the Cessna, said, "And when those rock types are plotted up and processed, we're able to see faults and structures within the earth that were previously unknown."

The sub-surface geology may help forecast potential earthquakes along the fault.

The Cessna's cockpit is crowded with computers, ready to store about three weeks worth of data.

There's only enough room for pilot, Joe Nance.

"And the pilot can actually see the magnetic signal being received."

The Cessna will take off every day at dawn and Michael Hobbs said the pilot shouldn't have an issue with low flying crop dusters working fields in Arkansas and Missouri.

"We're flying at about 650-feet, or the height of a 65-story building," Hobbs said. "So they're below where we're flying."

Blakely said residents shouldn't be alarmed by the low flying research plane.

"It's the USGS's point of view that being prepared is the way to go," he said.

This is the first aerial survey the USGS has done of the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

The data they collect is expected to take three to six months to analyze.