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Volcanic activity the likely cause of central Utah earthquakes

Aerial view of the lava flow left by volcano in Millard County, UT (Photo: University of Utah)

Two recent central Utah earthquakes have ties to volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. The volcano created a lava flow now called the Black Rock Desert between 9,000 and 12,000 years ago.

The earthquakes near Fillmore in 2018 and 2019 measured 4.0 and 4.1 on the Richter scale. At that time, the University of Utah had a temporary network of seismographs in place nearby to monitor geothermal resources. That network allowed detailed observation of the two quakes, and researchers have determined the earthquakes and volcano are connected. 

That is the finding of postdoctoral researcher Maria Mesimeri, who has been studying the area and recently published her findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. She theorizes that underground movement of magma, or possibly hot water, could be responsible for the 2018 and 2019 quakes.

And she says the central Utah earthquakes are an indication that volcanic activity is still occurring in the area.

Professor Kristine Pankow, associate director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, says there’s no indication any eruption is imminent, but the area certainly deserves more study.

“Maybe there’s other, smaller events that might occur, not that I’m worried, but more so we can get a better sense of this system and what’s happening out there,” Professor Pankow told KSL Newsradio.

The black lava rocks left by the volcano are readily visible from I-15 in Millard County.

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