UNION COUNTY - A research team of 12 people began an initial equipment installation Tuesday on private vineyard property near the Williamson County line off North Lick Creek Road that will provide seismographic data about what's underneath the ground in Southern Illinois and the surrounding region.
"Our prime purpose is to get 3-D images of what is underground. What could be a side benefit of our research is detecting local earthquakes and determining the pattern of distribution of local earthquakes," said Stephen Marshak of the Department of Geology at the University of Illinois.
He was joined by researchers and students from Indiana University, Purdue University, Illinois State Geological Survey and Indiana Geological Survey who are establishing the first of 60 field stations in a horizontal swath stretching from the highest point of the Ozark plateau in southern Missouri through the Southern Illinois plateau into regions within Kentucky that incorporate the northern boundaries of the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
Funded by a National Science Foundation grant and part of the foundation's EarthScope Program dedicated to the study of the earth's crust, seismic data will be gathered from a 40-mile depth and will provide high definition scans for analysis, said Tim Larson of the Illinois State Geological Survey.
What fascinates Marshak is the region under analysis: To the beholder, nothing appears out of the ordinary above ground, but what lies beneath is a different story.
There is an about 5.5 mile drop in altitude from the highest point of the Ozarks in St. Francois County, Mo., to the lowest point of the Illinois basin not too far from here.
That's equivalent to turning the highest point of the Himalayas upside down, and Marshak is hoping data gathered from the scans will give an indication of the terrific slope differential determined by measuring granite and sentiment rock formations.
"West of the Mississippi River, the granite rock formation is closer to the ground's surface," he said.
More sophisticated equipment is expected to arrive in May. The station will remain here for about 18 months. Data is transmitted through cellphone to Indiana University.
"There's enough information and theories about the New Madrid Seismic Zone. With this research, we'll now have the data to support or disprove those theories," Larson said.