Seismic activity confirmed, consistent with reported earthquake damage in Alberta Beach, Canada


The group that monitors earthquakes in Alberta has confirmed two seismic events occurred just before midnight on Monday and says they may be connected to ground shifting in Alberta Beach. Multiple residents on the south side of Lac Ste. Anne, Alta. were woken up Monday night by what sounded like something falling onto their houses. 

READ MORE: Experts still looking into what caused Monday’s seismic events in Alberta

“I heard a loud crashing and a loud groaning. First, we thought someone broke in and then we thought ice must’ve just fallen off the roof,” Karson Smith said on Tuesday. When his family couldn’t find the source of the noise, they went back to bed.
But the next morning, the Smiths discovered a large amount of damage in and around their Alberta Beach cabin.
“I tried to open the back door to check outside and I couldn’t open the door to get to the lakefront,” said Sharon Smith. “Then I looked at the wall and there was a gigantic crack.”
The crack runs the length of the wall, and up onto the ceiling.
When the family went outside, they discovered much larger cracks in the ground, one large enough to put an entire arm into.
“It’s been cracking and splitting and heaving all day long. So I followed the crack and the crack went all the way along the lake,” Sharon said.
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) oversees seismic activity in the province. The AER’s Geological Survey branch confirmed that two seismic events of approximately 2.0 magnitude each occurred at approximately 11:45 p.m. on Monday.
“We are unable to confirm the exact location of both events due to their low magnitude and the sparsity of nearby seismic stations. However, initial information shows that both events are consistent with reports of an earthquake near the town of Alberta Beach,” AER spokesperson Jordan Fitzgerald said.
“The small magnitude of these events makes it difficult to say definitively what type of seismic event occurred. However, our staff believe the seismic event may have been a natural earthquake or an ice quake. Ice quakes are naturally occurring and happen when cold winter temperatures cause groundwater to freeze quickly, causing the ground in the area to suddenly crack and make popping sounds.”
Sharon was happy to have an explanation for the damage to her property, even though it surprised her.
“This is Alberta, I never thought there would be an earthquake here. All the people around the lake, when they were coming and talking about all the different damages and what they heard — and everybody being awake in the middle of the night — thought that maybe it was just the ice buckling.”
There’s also an opening visible on the lake and a one-metre-tall hill of dirt that formed on their neighbour’s normally flat yard overnight.
The Smiths’ other neighbour’s foundation buckled, and their brand new deck had shifted off its supports.
A door to one cabin was stuck because the foundation had shifted so much, residents couldn’t get inside.
The Smiths quickly notified the natural gas company, worried their pipes might be at risk. At around 6 p.m. two of the family’s gas lines were capped because there was significant tension on them due to the shifting.
Creaking noises continued to emanate from residences on Tuesday evening.
According to the AER’s map of seismic events in Alberta, this marks the first time any activity has happened in the vicinity of Alberta Beach since 2008 and 2009, when two earthquakes were noted near Barrhead.
Alberta Beach is roughly 70 kilometers west of Edmonton.


Experts still looking into what caused Monday’s seismic events in Alberta

There were at least two seismic events in Alberta late Monday evening and experts say their current best guess is that they were non-traditional ice quakes.
The incidents caused damage to homes in Alberta Beach, where residents reported hearing loud crashing and creaking noises overnight.
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) oversees seismic activity in the province. The AER’s geological survey branch confirmed that two seismic events of approximately 2.0 magnitude each occurred at approximately 11:45 p.m. on Monday: one near Gull Lake and one near Pigeon Lake.
“There very well could be events that are smaller than that detection threshold that we’re not able to see,” AER seismologist Ryan Schultz said on Wednesday. “If it happens over a very long timescale, we can’t see that.”
Since the phenomenon in Alberta Beach was reported, people in other parts of Alberta are coming forward with similar experiences.
His best guess? Sort of a reverse ice quake.
Ice quakes — or cryoseisms — usually occur when there is a rapid drop in temperature. Water that is in the ground freezes. Because it has nowhere else to go, it cracks the soil or rock, causing a loud noise and the shaking of the ground.
There are two types of cryoseisms: a frost quake and an ice quake. An ice quake occurs over bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.
“So normally, what happens with an ice quake or a cryoseism, you get the situation where the temperature rapidly drops — it used to be somewhere above freezing and then it goes below freezing really quickly — and you also don’t have a lot of snow cover and all of a sudden, because water expands when it freezes, you get all of this increased pressure and stress and it just can’t go anywhere without expanding ice… All of a sudden, it pops and slips, so that’s a traditional ice quake,” Schultz said.
The temperature in Alberta Beach, like most of Alberta, has changed drastically over the past few days. On Monday, Alberta Beach went from a low of -28 C to a high of -6 C.
“In this case though, it’s backward… We do have to look a little bit more into it to understand what’s going on.”
Schultz said researchers will look at whether wind on the lake could be a factor.
“Or if there are just gradients in temperatures — where you’re getting warmer areas and cooler areas — and that change in temperature changes how the rate of expansion happens, or maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.”
To try and explain, he offered a simple analogy.
“That’s the same sort of idea that probably happened here — our best guess at what happened here — just on a larger scale.”
He stressed that science is a process and that it will take time to land on the right conclusion.
The province also experienced a significant shift in temperatures in December, when it went from above the freezing mark to the -30s C during the latter half of the month.
There were reports of frost quakes in Ontario in 20132014 and 2015.
However, they have also been known to happen during a deep cold. It happened in southwestern Ontario in 2014 when the temperature was around -15 C — nowhere near a thaw.
Frost quakes are very localized compared to earthquakes and diminish rapidly with distance, according to experts.


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