EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 18, 2012

Learning a lesson firsthand

Earthquake study turns real for middle school students

Gale Regis was walking around her house Tuesday night when she felt the structure move.

“I thought it was my washing machine, but my washing machine wasn’t on,” Regis said. “People have been telling me that they thought a plane had crashed or that it was a big, heavy truck coming down the road.”

But while the 4.0 magnitude earthquake that rattled much of New England initially confused and frightened many residents throughout Greater Newburyport, it left Regis excited,

The sixth-grade science teacher at Amesbury Middle School immediately saw a teachable moment.

Regis and her students keep track of earthquakes throughout the school year, and Tuesday’s earthquake provided a rare occasion for them to study a big quake that occurred right in their backyard.

Yesterday, Regis’ students got a chance to look at the data gathered by their classroom’s own seismograph, which Regis said can pick up seismic waves, if they’re strong enough, from anywhere in the world.

Through the data, the students not only could tell how strong the quake was and how long it lasted, but also subtle details — like the steady buildup of smaller seismic waves before the quake hit as well as a similar tapering off at the end. The students also identified a small aftershock that occurred about 20 minutes following the main quake and was too small to be felt by humans.

After examining the data, the students then took a look at a map of the Northeast indicating all the areas where the quake could be felt. The map showed that the quake had an impact on most of New England and as far as eastern New York, but also showed that it didn’t affect some areas closer to the epicenter in Maine, while other spots farther away could still feel it.

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