Geophysicists Take Advantage of ASARCO and City Hall Demolitions

By Nadia M. Whitehead

UTEP News Service

Geophysicists from The University of Texas at El Paso will use this weekend’s explosions to demolish ASARCO and City Hall to their advantage.

Led by Hector Gonzalez-Huizar, Ph.D., research assistant professor of geological sciences, 45 seismometers – devices that measure ground movement – will be set up between the demolition sites downtown and at the ASARCO site near UTEP.Led by Hector Gonzalez-Huizar, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of geological sciences, 45 seismometers will be set up between City Hall and the ASARCO smoke stack to measure seismic waves generated by the explosions during this weekend’s demolitions. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceLed by Hector Gonzalez-Huizar, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of geological sciences, 45 seismometers will be set up between City Hall and the ASARCO smoke stack to measure seismic waves generated by the explosions during this weekend’s demolitions. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

“It’s a great opportunity for us because, of course, we can’t set up our own explosives in the area to make these kinds of studies,” said Gonzalez-Huizar, who expects some seismometers to be as close as 600 feet to the demolition zones.

Data gathered by the seismometers will help researchers identify where seismic waves travel faster and slower in the ground to help map sub-surface characteristics in the El Paso area.

The data also will help make researchers aware of any other previously unmapped structures below ground, and to see whether or not the east Franklin Mountain fault terminates below downtown El Paso, or continues into Juárez.  

“By knowing the physical properties of the ground, we’ll be able to figure out how downtown will respond to an earthquake,” he said. “We’ll have a better idea of the kind of motion that could be generated.”

Carlos Montana and Galen Kaip, supporting staff of the department, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, will assist Gonzalez-Huizar on the project. He will also receive expert seismology consultation from geological sciences professors Diane Doser, Ph.D., and Aaron Velasco, Ph.D.

The team plans to set up the seismometers on Friday, April 12, and take them down on Monday, April 15. The John W. Kidd Memorial Seismological Observatory located on campus also will be used to measure waves during the demolitions.

Although it is not yet confirmed, Gonzalez-Huizar believes faculty at the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juárez will help with the project by setting up their own seismometers on the south side of the border.

He expects the data processing and results to be completed in several months, at which point they hope to publish their results and inform the public about what to expect if a large earthquake ever does occur in El Paso.