Possible Mechanism For Surface Vibrations Near Maxwell Hill, West Virginia
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Possible Mechanism For Surface Vibrations Near Maxwell Hill, West Virginia

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      Residents of Maxwell Hill, a suburb of Beckley, West Virginia, reported from January until March of 1988 a series of earth tremors. The tremors rattled dishes, and the noises associated with tremors were sometimes loud enough to wake people at night. These events were puzzling because Beckley is in an area of low seismic activity. Maxwell Hill is located above abandoned coal mines, though no direct subsidence damage to surface structures has been documented. A research program was initiated to determine whether subsurface ground movements associated with the abandoned mines could be responsible for the seismic activity experienced at the surface. A hypothesis is proposed which states that seismic disturbances can be caused by abandoned mine failure when two conditions are met. First, some instability must exist at the mine level. The most likely cause of instability is the failure of pillars of coal that were left for support at the time of mining. Second, subsurface movements can result in significant seismic activity only when the rock above the mine contains at least one very strong and brittle layer that is prone to fail violently through rupture or fault slip movement. Analysis of the data indicates that both hypothesized conditions for mine-related seismicity appear to have been satisfied in the case of Maxwell Hill. It has therefore been concluded that the earth tremors experienced by Maxwell Hill residents probably are related to the abandoned mines. Analysis of the potential magnitude of these events indicates that they are unlikely to cause significant surface danlage. The probability that future events will disturb the residence of Maxwell Hill should be quite low based on the identified mechanism.
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