This month, the Utah County surveyor's office is helping University of Utah geologists determine exactly how far the Wasatch Front moves each year.
Surveyor's office crews are using the Global Positioning System, a satellite-based surveying system developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, to determine the precise location of several survey monuments located throughout the county. The surveyors can then make similar measurements on these same points in the future to determine how far the ground is moving over time."We have been using GPS for years now to survey the public land section corners in the county and for a wide range of mapping applications," Utah County surveyor Clyde Naylor said.
Robert Smith of the University of Utah's geology department, who is directing the efforts, said the northern portion of the Wasatch Front is moving at a rate of about 5 millimeters per year.
"The valley is moving away from the foothills," Smith said. "The rate of movement might not seem like much, but in comparison to the rest of the basin and range system we would expect to see only 1 or 2 millimeters of movement."
The surveys in Utah County are an important step in developing a better understanding of exactly how far the fault is moving and which parts of the fault are experiencing the greatest amount of strain, Smith said.
Since the fault is constantly in motion, it causes strain to build up underground. When this strain is released, an earthquake occurs. By monitoring the Earth's movements, scientists can learn about earthquakes and perhaps even develop some earthquake prediction tools, Smith said.
The fault motion survey has brought together seismologists, geologists and surveyors from many departments and agencies through-out the state.
"Utah County brings a very beneficial level of expertise to our project," Smith said. "We're glad to have their assistance."