Mine's seismic data released

As investigators continue to look into what caused the fatal explosion at the Sago mine in West Virginia, weather experts and seismologists are contributing unique evidence.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | January 9, 2006


As investigators continue to look into what caused the fatal explosion at the Sago mine in West Virginia, weather experts and seismologists are contributing unique evidence.

A lightning detection network operated by WeatherBug found a powerful bolt of lightning struck near the mine entrance around 6:26 a.m. the morning of Jan 2. Then seismologists from the Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences determined there was a minor seismic event - possibly from the explosion - two seconds later.

"We do think these are two very important pieces of information," said Jim Anderson, director of government services for WeatherBug.

WeatherBug provides live, local weather information services for hundreds of outlets, including the National Weather Service.

Evidence suggests, said the experts, that the lightning strike could have caused the explosion, mainly due to the correlation between the timing and location of the lightning strike and seismic activity.

The WeatherBug lightning network detected a single, powerful lightning strike at or near the mouth of the Sago mine at 6:26 a.m. and 36 seconds. Then a research assistant professor from Virginia Tech analyzed the seismic data and found that two independent seismic sensors read a minor seismic event, possibly from the explosion, two seconds later after that strike at 6:26 a.m. and 38 seconds. The lightning strike held a particularly strong positive charge of 35 kAmps, compared to a typical strike of 22 to 25 kAmps. Overall, WeatherBug detected 100 lightning strikes in the region within a 40 minute time period around the explosion.

"The Sago Mine incident was a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who lost their life," said WeatherBug CEO Bob Marshall. "We hope that our investigation and associated data will help investigators to determine the final cause of the explosion for the sake of all involved. While we cannot say definitively that lightning was the cause of the explosion, the correlation of the data from our lightning network and seismic activity suggests that the events could be related."

Meanwhile - one week after 12 miners died inside the Sago mine in West Virginia's Upshur County - West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin announced that J. Davitt McAteer will head the state's investigation. The investigation will focus on what caused the accident, how a major communication error led to families believing 12 of the 13 miners were alive, and what technology improvements can be made in the future.


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