By Tia Lynn Ivey
The mystery of the loud boom that shook Morgan County and several other communities in Georgia last week has been solved, says a local high school science teacher, Michelle Ozburn.
“It was an earthquake,” said Ozburn, who heard the boom and felt the ground shake on Sunday, Feb. 2. “Right away, I thought it was an earthquake.”
While over 200 people flooded Morgan County Dispatch with calls within 10 minutes of the boom and social media platforms were abuzz with speculations as to what could have caused such a loud boom, Ozburn, who teaches physical science and meteorology, put her science skills to work to confirm her suspicions that the incident was indeed an earthquake.
While the United State Geological Survey (USGS) did not record the incident as an earthquake, Ozburn tracked down a Georgia Tech professor, who confirmed an earthquake was detected by the university’s two seismometers, equipment designed to detect and record earthquakes.
After the loud boom, Ozburn checked the Georgia Tech Seismology Department’s website, which provides live data, and saw the earthquake detected right away in real time.
“There it was. A small earthquake detected on both their seismographs measuring at 2 and 2.2,” said Ozburn. “All the other theories of tannerite explosions or a sonic boom just didn’t make sense considering how far reaching it was heard and felt. This was obviously an earthquake.”
Ozburn reached out to Professor Andrew Newman from Georgia Tech, who explained the phenomenon.
“It sounds to me like you may have indeed heard/felt a very small trembler that shook your area. So small, that the USGS didn’t record it, but was picked up by our seismometers,” said Newman. “We do get these with some frequency, and they do happen to be loud at times, as these earthquakes can be very shallow. When they pop near the surface, people nearby hear them well. Much larger earthquakes pop too, but their sound occurs many kms deeper in the earth and usually are many pops over longer periods of time. Because the waves have to travel through so much earth before they hit our ears, we just hear a rumble, or just feel their shake.”
Ozburn noted that there has been an uptick in earthquakes, with several being recorded in the last few months.
“This happens more often than we realize,” said Ozburn. “There were two earthquakes in Eatonton back in October, one in Appalachia in Morgan County in November, one picked up in Stockbridge, and then another just this past Sunday in Lilburn. It’s happening all over the place, not just in our area but across the world. The earth is rumbling and groaning.”
Ozburn noted that some scientists believe the recent uptick in low-grade earthquakes in the local area could be caused by the excessive amount of rain collecting underground in recent months.
“One theory is the water. We have had so much water, so many underwater rivers and the amount of water that’s moving and settling and disturbing the settlements—that could be the cause.”
Ozburn, who is from Morgan County and has been teaching science for 18 years, believes there could be more of these mini-earthquakes in the near future.
“I want the public to know, it’s OK. We’re not in any danger, but I do think we are going to continue to see these. I do think it’s has to do with the amount of rain we are getting and in the next two weeks, there’s even more rain predicted to fall.”
Ozburn also noted that soon Morgan County High School could be able to detect earthquakes once a new partnership with Georgia Tech if finalized, in which the high school’s meteorology department will receive a seismometer of its own.
“We will be able to detect and record these incidences ourselves and report the information back to Georgia Tech and the community,” said Ozburn.