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NIU geology professors to explore earthquakes and fracking at online STEM Café

July 6, 2020

We don’t usually think of the central United States as earthquake territory. However, at least 26 minor earthquakes have rattled northern Illinois in the past 100 years, and in recent years Oklahoma has experienced more “felt” earthquakes (magnitude 3 or higher) than California.

At the next online NIU STEM Café, professors Philip Carpenter and Megan Brown, of the NIU Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, will share their research about seismic activity in the northern Illinois region and the central U.S.

Carpenter, a seismologist and Registered Professional Geologist in Illinois, will discuss the earthquake history of Illinois. He says the audience might be surprised to learn that we have earthquakes in this part of the country, but even more surprising is the fact that we know relatively little about the faults that cause these earthquakes.

“Comparing the earthquake map of northern Illinois with known faults reveals a striking discordance,” Carpenter says. “No earthquakes occur on the only two mapped faults in the area: the Sandwich and Plum River faults. This suggests the active faults are unmapped and hidden beneath glacial deposits and possibly thousands of feet of sedimentary rock.”

Brown, a hydrogeologist, will discuss “induced earthquakes” – earthquakes caused by human activities such as mining or injection of fluids into underground formations, which have gained national attention since the oil and gas boom of the late 2000s. She says, “While hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is one of the main techniques utilized in oil and gas production, the wastewater disposal wells associated with production are the leading cause of felt induced earthquakes in the Central and Eastern United States.”

Brown will talk about several of the known and potential ways of triggering induced earthquakes, as well as mitigation plans and procedures. She hopes the audience will leave with a better understanding of what induced seismicity is and how it is being addressed in the Central and Eastern United States.

The online STEM Café is free and open to the public and will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15. To register, go to Click on the link provided in your confirmation email to enter the meeting by 5:50 p.m. The meeting room opens at 5:30 p.m., and speakers begin promptly at 6 p.m. On a computer, the Chrome browser works best, and you’ll be asked to download the Adobe Connect app. For tablets and mobile phones, go to your app store and download the Adobe Connect mobile app before attending. You’ll be able to listen to the speakers and have a chance to type in your questions. 

Northern Illinois University STEM Cafés are sponsored by NIU STEAM and are designed to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our everyday lives. For more information, contact Judith Dymond, Ed.D. at 815-753-4751 or email [email protected].