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Las Vegas to rock, roll

Monday night, Las Vegas will rock harder than the last time Elvis played Caesar's Palace.


"What it will do is mimic an earthquake."

—Catherine Snelson

Monday night, Las Vegas will rock harder than the last time Elvis played Caesar's Palace.

The music, however, will be a little unusual 6,000 lbs. of explosives will be detonated in nine 70-foot-deep holes on the outskirts of the city. Entertainment is not the point. The blasts will be triggered in the name of science, said Catherine Snelson, an assistance professor of geology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Snelson is among the more than 40 researchers running this unusual experiment. Their aim, she said, is to generate an artificial earthquake, which should register weaker than one on Richter scale.

"What it will do is mimic an earthquake," she said. "Basically it's something that nobody will even notice."

Prior to detonation, the explosive charges will be covered with 50 feet of gravel and bentonite (a type of clay). This precaution will prevent the blast from making too much noise aboveground, Snelson said. But noise won't likely be a problem, since only two of the blast sites are anywhere close to the city. The rest are scattered around the arid waste that surrounds Las Vegas.

The purpose of these explosions, Snelson said, is rather simple there are eight major seismic fault lines around the city, but very little is known about them. Monday night's experiment may help provide more information about them, and even provide a detailed subterranean map.

That is if everything goes as planned. "It's always kind of a crap-shoot," Snelson said. "But if everything goes right, we should have a nice three-dimensional map of the subsurface. At the very least, we definitely know that we'll get the shape of the basin."

Such a map would be essential towards predicting what seismic activity may affect Vegas in the future, and these predictions, in turn, may lead to the updating of building codes and emergency procedures.

Nevada is the third most seismic state in the country, after California and Alaska, and state and local regulations need to reflect that reality, Snelson thinks.

"They're not up to what we feel is the hazard here," she said.

Such changes are important, considering that seismologists expect a major earthquake, registering between 6.5 and 7 on the Richter scale, to cause both major loss of life and devastating structural damage, sometime within the next 10,000 years. The success of Monday's experiment may help clear up that ambiguity a little bit, she said.

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