With the Earth constantly shifting under our feet, the need for research is always there.
“The USGS is very supportive and we are grateful they continue to support our work,” McKay said. “We also appreciate the National Park Service (NPS) and The Geological Survey of Alabama for their previous and continued support, and we look forward to learning more about the area.”
An unexpected appearance
McKay aims to create a geologic map of the area he is studying and look for the presence of paleoseismites.
But what exactly are those?
“Paleosiesmites are various types of formations in the earth,” McKay said. “They were created by ancient earthquakes and are over 350 million years old.”
These subtle formations are usually found within the Ouachita Mountains, located in western Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma.
But recently, when completing a mapping project for the NPS, McKay came across these formations in an unexpected location: northwestern Alabama.
This raised eyebrows.
“We are so far away from the Ouachitas, yet there are still small earthquakes and paleoseismites in the area,” McKay said. “Our current understanding is the Tennessee River formed much more recently, but this mapping, along with previous mapping, suggests there is a seismic zone which was potentially active for over 350 million years, and we didn’t know about it.”
The search for answers
With this grant, McKay hopes to make many discoveries.
“We hope to address how these earthquake features formed, why they formed and the potential for modern seismicity,” he said. “The study area is right in between the eastern Tennessee seismic zone in the Appalachian Mountains and the New Madrid seismic zone in southeastern Missouri and western Tennessee. We want to know if there is a connection between these three areas.”
He also hopes to explore a possible tectonic connection between southern U.S. states and the Yucatan Peninsula, which inhabits the countries of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
“We have theorized the Yucatan Peninsula was located near Alabama and Mississippi 350 million years ago,” McKay said. “This study might uncover more linkages between these two tectonic blocks in the ancient geologic past.”
Master of Science in Geography and Geology student Bhooma Parthasarathy will join McKay and take the lead on the project.