UW News

January 22, 2015

Seahawks and fans save best for last on the seismograph

UW News

The UW seismologists couldn’t have asked for a better football game to monitor fan-generated stadium shaking. And indeed, the Seahawks’ improbable comeback victory in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game showed the biggest vibrations ever recorded at CenturyLink Field.

The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network‘s analysis shows the Jan. 18 “Dance Quake” following the late touchdown by Marshawn Lynch and two-point conversion Russell Wilson lobbed across the field to Luke Willson to take a three-point lead in the last minute and a half of the game was the biggest seismic signal yet seen during a Seahawks game.

“I can’t believe our luck in picking such dramatic games to measure,” said John Vidale, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the seismic network.

Seahawks fans got to check the real-time “QuickShake” display and “Hawk-O-Grams,” or seismograms that show the stadium’s movement throughout the game. The wiggles measure the crowd’s level of excitement, acting as a fairly accurate measure of big Seahawks plays. Scientists marked the peaks with what was happening on the field.

graph of vibrations

The seismogram is read along each line, left to right, and shows the stadium vibrations during the NFC Championship game.Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

Once again, witty blog posts and speedy seismic analyses were done by Steve Malone, former director of the seismic network and UW professor emeritus of Earth and space sciences. His investigations show that the “Dance Quake” was augmented by a “Cheer Quake,” when the crowd was chanting “Defense Now!” after the Green Bay Packers got the ball.

Malone and Kelley Hall, a UW graduate student in Earth and space sciences, compared some of the largest shakes from the past three years. They found Sunday’s seismic event had bigger amplitude – meaning larger estimated energy at the seismic source, i.e., the fans’ jumping and stomping feet – than even the 2011 Beast Quake that prompted the whole football seismic-monitoring experiment.

graph of vibrations

A comparison of some of the biggest stadium rumbling shows that Sunday’s (black) was the biggest.Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

For the rest of the research group, last weekend was more relaxed. After feverishly working to get the equipment and display functioning during the first playoff game, the equipment worked smoothly this time and seismologists were mostly monitoring their tools, communicating with fans and watching the game.

Technicians removed the seismometers and cables from the stadium Thursday and brought them back to the UW headquarters. For field technicians, who are often installing equipment in remote parts of the Pacific Northwest, this was a fun and high-profile deployment close to home.

For the communications group, the effort was a trial by fire and an opportunity to spread awareness of seismic monitoring. Many of the social-media posts by group member Angel Ling got dozens of reposts, and statistics show that over the past two weeks the network’s Twitter account, @PNSN1, had more than 1.2 million views.

Despite suggestions that the seismic team should follow the Seahawks to Arizona to monitor fans’ cheers during the Super Bowl, the group has no such plans.

“We’re going to go back to our day jobs,” Vidale said, “monitoring volcanoes and earthquakes, and building an earthquake early warning system.”