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04/22/2013

Just how powerful was Superstorm Sandy?

SandyLarge waves generated by Superstorm Sandy crash into Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head, N.C. Researchers reported recently that earthquake sensors located as far away as the Pacific Northwest detected the storm’s energy as it surged toward the New York metropolitan region last October. (AP)

Earthquakes shake the Earth. So do tornadoes or mine collapses, though on a lesser scale. When Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. on Oct. 30, it threw out such energetic microseisms that made most of the U.S. feel like it was being rocked by a 2 to 3-magnitude earthquake, says recently released research.

The shaking was detected across much of the U.S.

Scientists at the University of Utah presented these findings at the Seismological Society of America’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City last week.

“We detected seismic waves created by the oceans waves both hitting the East Coast and smashing into each other,” with the most intense seismic activity recorded when Sandy turned toward Long Island, New York and New Jersey, Keith Koper, director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, said in a statement.

Researchers said they were able to track the hurricane by looking at how the microseisms — relatively small seismic waves — were generated. As the storm turned west-northwest, the seismometers lit up with powerful winds and the storm surge caused massive damage.

The shaking was partly caused by waves hitting the East Coast, but much more by waves colliding with other waves in the ocean, setting up “standing waves” that reach the seafloor and transmit energy to it, researchers said.

The microseisms generated by Sandy were detected by Earthscope, a National Science Foundation-funded array of about 500 portable seismometers that were first placed in California in 2004.

READ MORE: Sandy victims feared photos lost forever — they were wrong

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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