Natural reservoirs and triggered seismicity: a study of two northern Utah Lakes

Friday, 19 December 2014
Katherine Murphy Whidden, Kristel Hansen, Mindy Timothy, M. Shawn Boltz, Kristine L Pankow and Keith D Koper, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, United States
The Great Salt Lake (GSL) and Utah Lake (UL) in northern Utah are in the middle of the Intermountain Seismic Belt, a band of active seismicity extending from western Montana through central Utah to northern Arizona. The proximity of these water bodies to an active earthquake zone is ideal for an investigation of lake-triggered seismicity. Both GSL and UL are shallow (10 and 4.3 m, respectively). The fresh water UL drains via the Jordan River into the salty GSL, which has no outlet. GSL has an aerial extent of 4400 km2, and the shallow depth and lack of outlet cause the surface area to change greatly as the lake volume increases and decreases. UL is much smaller with an almost constant aerial extent of 385 km2. For each lake, we compare yearly earthquake counts near the lake to yearly average lake level for years 1975-2013. GSL seismicity and lake level data correlate well, with seismicity increasing 3-5 years after lake level rise (cross correlation coefficient=0.56, P-value=0.0005). There is an especially large increase in seismicity in 1989 NE of the GSL following the historic lake level high stand in the mid-1980s. The 1989 seismicity has characteristics of both a swarm and a traditional mainshock/aftershock sequence. We will use a double-difference method (HypoDD) to relocate these earthquakes. UL seismicity does not correlate well with the lake level. The different results for the two lakes could perhaps be explained by the lakes’ different sizes and the fact that UL has an outlet while GSL does not. The difference might also be explained by subsurface fluid pathways and available faults for nucleating earthquakes. We will further explore the significance of the GSL seismicity and lake level correlation by generating synthetic earthquake catalogs and cross correlating their yearly earthquake counts with the lake level data.