What’s Shakin’ at Natembea?

Cars. Pigs. Cows. People. Ternate, Indonesia. A couple of small islands north of Tonga. Surprisingly, not the gun club just down the road.

Wait – what?

Well, yes – literally.

Years ago, when Devon and I were looking at moving back up to the Pacific Northwest, some of our friends pointed in horror to an article from the New Yorker describing the earthquake that will destroy the Pacific Northwest. Now, I’m not saying Kathryn Schulz is wrong (ironically, I’m a fan of her book Being Wrong – Adventures in the Margin of Error), but sensationalism is what sells, and I didn’t find her statistics convincing. I know, I know, there are those who say “It’s not ‘if’, it’s ‘when’.” But if statistics suggest that the ‘when’ is closer to the heat death of the universe than my personal ‘best by’ date, it’s a risk I’ll probably go ahead and take.

So here we are.

Which is not to say I’m blasé about earthquakes. Never mind growing up below a reservoir that straddled the San Andreas fault, I lived through enough desk-jumping, window-popping earthquakes in Tokyo to actually miss them when I got back. I’ve seen earthquakes close up.

Last fall, a nice young man from the Pacific Seismic Network emailed and asked if he could come out for a visit. They were scouting for sites on the peninsula to place an additional sensor to complement the network they’ve built up. And he, personally, was also looking for excuses to spend time wandering around farms. I can’t say I blamed him.

A typical remote installation

So Nicholas came out and tromped around the pastures with me, explaining what they were up to and what they were after. He said that most of their installations are as far out in the middle of nowhere as they could manage, which meant they had to be set up with solar arrays and a satellite uplink. But for triangulation reasons, they wanted a sensor somewhere here on the tip of the peninsula, and we were about as good a spot as they’d been able to suss out. The relative openness and quiet of Natembea, and the fact that they could plug into power right at the end of the lane and piggyback on our wifi made it a no-brainer for them.

I expressed my concerns – these sensors are supposed to be able to detect faint earthquakes on the other side of the world, and we had folks tromping around right above them. Not a problem, Nicholas said. We had cars pulling up to load/unload stuff. A couple of times a day? Not a problem, Nicholas said, their algorithms filtered that stuff out automatically. We had window-rattling gunfire at the gun club – sorry, Sportsman’s Association – a quarter mile away. Not a problem, Nicholas said – sensor would be 10 feet down, and gunfire apparently doesn’t propagate well through soil.

So what would be a problem? Trees, he said. Apparently, when wind blows through their branches, their roots vibrate.

Well, I’m kicking myself for not getting pictures of the construction work digging a trench out to where the sensor would go, and drilling down, backfilling and all that, but when they were all done a couple of days later, we had a metal box on a couple of posts sitting out at the end of the lane, listening to what’s shaking all over the world.

You can go check it out yourself: https://pnsn.org/seismogram/current/natem

One Comment Add yours

  1. Dave and Marg Rockenbeck says:

    Wow, this is great! Looking forward to visiting some day soon.


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