Earthquake researcher Mike Turnbull.
Earthquake researcher Mike Turnbull. Russell Shakespeare

Why the government needs to up its game on quake monitoring

EARTHQUAKE researcher Mike Turnbull fears the government is turning a blind eye to what he says is a very real threat gently rumbling beneath us.

The Bundaberg region has experienced five significant earthquake events in 100 years and countless other after shocks and rumbles.

But so far, he says, the State Government's response has been to drop the state seismologist, a position Mr Turnbull describes as "a token effort in the first place".

Queensland seismologist Katrina Byerly Lyon finished up in 2015.

Then energy and water minister Mark Bailey blamed the LNP for the cut, saying the position hadn't been funded.

Mr Turnbull just wishes politicians would stop playing politics and listen to the grumbles coming from the earth.

The trouble is, Mr Turnbull says, when money is tight, earthquake monitoring becomes the quiet wheel.

"Ministers of various flavours over the years are just not interested," he said.

"The State Government doesn't seem interested."

A major earthquake in a regional centre like Gladstone, Mr Turnbull says, could cripple the state's economy and "Queensland would just about go bankrupt" in a matter of months.

Mr Turnbull says the potential for devastating economic effects if producers couldn't get their produce to market would rock the state.

"The State Government doesn't want to do anything about it when it is absolutely their responsibility to to do so," he said.

Mr Turnbull says he is one of only two people in the state paying attention to the small rumbles happening on a regular basis across central Queensland - the other is Russell Cuthbertson, a former state government seismologist during the construction of Wivenhoe Dam.

The researcher said it was only by monitoring smaller quakes that possible locations of major earthquakes could be revealed in time to take some kind of action.

"Geoscience Australia simply can not cover it because they don't have the network," he said.

"It's a very expensive exercise to put the monitoring equipment in place."

Geoscience Australia told the NewsMail it analyses and reports on seismic data from more than 100 permanent stations across Australia, and in excess of 300 stations worldwide in near real-time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"In relation to Australian earthquakes, our real-time alerting activities focus on earthquakes with potential to cause damage or alarm," a spokesperson said.

"Generally speaking, this is an earthquake of magnitude 3.5 or larger, or smaller events reported close to the time of occurrence by the local community.

"Where an earthquake smaller than magnitude 3.5 causes local community concern, we are alerted to the event by felt reports provided to us via our website or Twitter, we then investigate data from the nearest stations to evaluate the circumstances and provide information back to the community via our website and Twitter."

The spokesperson said information regarding significant Australian earthquakes was reported to the community within 20 minutes of occurrence for earthquake of magnitude 3.5 or larger, and as soon as possible for any other smaller, felt earthquakes.

"We also conduct post-event analysis, which includes earthquakes of smaller magnitudes," they said.

"All the earthquakes we locate are added to the national catalogue, which is used to inform earthquake research, particularly, seismic hazard assessments.

"In 2017, Geoscience Australia added over 722 Australian earthquakes with a magnitude less than 3.5 to the national catalogue.

"Of these, 21 earthquakes occurred in central Queensland, ranging from magnitude 2.0 to magnitude 3.3.

"Most of these were related to the Bowen earthquake sequence.


The spokesperson said research into the Bowen earthquake sequence was ongoing and would incorporate additional data acquired from a temporary, dense seismic monitoring network deployed by Geoscience Australia in 2016.

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