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‘UteQuake’ seismic exhibit goes live for UCLA game

UteQuake returns to Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday when the University of Utah faces No. 22-ranked UCLA for the football teams’ Pac 12 conference opener.

During the game, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m., the University of Utah Seismograph Stations’ (UUSS) geoscientists will monitor amplitude signals recorded by a seismometer they installed Aug. 30 on the west side of the stadium, then tweet interesting observations during the game.

“Although a seismometer’s primary role is to record earthquakes, these very sensitive instruments will detect any ground shaking, regardless of the source, including from rowdy Utes fans in Rice-Eccles Stadium,” UUSS posted on a new web page devoted to UteQuake.

The idea is to help pump up No. 11-ranked Utes’ game-day excitement, while also promoting the Seismograph Stations’ vital public safety mission to “reduce the risk from earthquakes in Utah through research, education, and public service.” The UUSS operates a regional network of 200 seismographs stretching from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

Tested during the Utes’ season opener against the Florida Gators when record attendance exceeded 53,000, the experiment proved a roaring success. So UteQuake will run for the remainder of the season, according to Jamie Farrell, a research associate professor of geology and geophysics.

During Saturday’s game, Mark Hale, one of the seismic analysts at the UUSS, will be tracking the seismic waveforms in real time, then tweeting analysis of readings at key moments, starting with the Ute players emerging onto the field.

“They play this welcome music and people are jumping with that,” Hale said. “Because everyone is jumping in unison to that music, it tends to be the biggest signal.”

That phenomenon is also seen during the 3rd Down Jump, an Utah tradition where the crowd leaps up and down before third down snaps as the Ute defense is looking to make a stop.

Look for the tweets from @UUSSquake at the hashtag #UteQuake. Later in the week, the UUSS will post a game summary to the UteQuake website, with a ranking of all home Utah touchdowns for the season from largest to smallest shaking.

UUSS scientists cautioned against using the seismic data to draw magnitude equivalences, the standard measure of earthquakes.

“UteQuakes are not real earthquakes, they are measurements of ground motion caused by fans in the stadium, they said in a web post.

The news media’s recent reporting on a similar experiment at two Taylor Swift concerts in July at Seattle’s Lumen Field mistakenly likened the crowd’s response to the superstar singer to a 2.3-magnitude earthquake.

To stay safe and avoid confusion, Farrell’s team will for now refrain from sharing magnitude equivalence.

“It turns out it’s hard to calculate a magnitude for something that isn’t an earthquake,” Farrell said.  “The best we can do now is ‘relative amplitudes’ from game to game.  For example, the signal from the Utes running out of the tunnel during the Weber State game was [about three times] smaller in amplitude than the same signal during the Florida game.  This is almost entirely due to the fact that there were a lot less people in the stands during the Weber State game.”

Farrell, however, intends to examine seismic readings taken during games from a permanent seismograph station, located on campus .6 miles north of the stadium, which has been measuring actual earthquakes for years, including the magnitude 5.7 Magna quake in 2020.

“What will be interesting will be to compare the level of shaking at station in the stadium compared with the station about a half mile away,” Farrell said. “We can compare the amplitude of shaking from the stadium with the shaking from the Magna earthquake which most people remember actually feeling the ground shaking.”



The graphic to the left indicates the seismic waveforms recorded during the three touchdowns scored by the Utes in their 24-11 victory over Florida during the Aug. 31 season opener.