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LHU News

LHU seismograph records worldwide earthquakes


The magnitude 7.9 Gulf of Alaska earthquake that occurred on January 23 was recorded on Lock Haven University’s earthquake seismograph, housed in the Department of Geology and Physics. The vertical motion seismograph, nicknamed “Sophie,” records worldwide earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater, and smaller magnitude earthquakes that occur within a 500-mile radius.

The earthquake on January 23 occurred 280 kilometers southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, producing a magnitude 7.9 earthquake at 09:31:42 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The earthquake waves travelling through the earth took 7 minutes and 25 seconds to reach “Sophie” in Lock Haven at 9:38:07 UTC. 

“This recent magnitude 7.9 earthquake was one of the largest earthquakes I have seen recorded while attending LHU,” Caleb Royer, LHU geology major, said.

The Gulf of Alaska is a common region for subduction zone earthquakes that occur along the boundary between two tectonic plates where one plate slides underneath another plate. The earthquake epicenter for the January earthquake was just outside the subduction zone along several closely-spaced fracture zones, a location where earthquakes do not usually occur. The shaking was felt throughout southcentral Alaskan communities and as far away as Washington state. 

Loretta Dickson, Ph. D., associate professor of geology, maintains the LHU seismograph and teaches students about earthquake phenomena and hazards. Several hundred magnitude 2 and smaller earthquakes occur every day, but on average, major earthquakes greater than magnitude 7 occur about once or twice per month, and great earthquakes of magnitude 8 or higher occur about once a year, according to Dickson.

According to the USGS, 75 million Americans in 39 states are at risk to earthquakes and the damage they cause. “The causes and effects of earthquakes and assessing earthquake impacts and hazards are an important part of the Geology curriculum, and observing earthquake waves being recorded in real-time is an added benefit to our students,” Dickson said.

Royer checks the LHU seismograph every day for earthquake recordings. “It allows me to see that earthquakes happen all over the globe, and earthquakes are picked up by Sophie on almost a daily basis,” he said.

For more information about LHU’s earthquake seismograph, contact Dickson at

For more information on Lock Haven University, visit, email, or call 570-484-2011.

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Lock Haven University is a member of Pennsylvania’s State System, the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas of study. Nearly 520,000 system alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.                        

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