- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

Jim Reger knew something unusual was happening last week when residents around Dundalk, Md., who said they felt a rumbling under their feet started telephoning to ask whether there had been an earthquake.

Minutes later, a radio signal from a seismograph station near Owings Mills showed up as jerky lines on the computer screen at the Maryland Geological Survey, where Mr. Reger is a principal geologist.

The epicenter of the earthquake six miles under Dundalk registered a magnitude of 2.0, small by California standards but large by Maryland standards.

The biggest known earthquake in Maryland was an estimated 3.5 tremor in 1758, which is enough to cause only minor damage.

Mr. Reger estimates Maryland has about 100 fault lines. The exact number is difficult to determine because many of them will be discovered only after they cause earthquake tremors, he said.

Another unusual characteristic of the Feb. 23 earthquake was the 3- to 5-second duration.

Among Maryland earthquakes, “Most of the time it’s a kaboom, and that’s it,” Mr. Reger said.

Although earthquakes might be the most spectacular part of his job, more often sinkholes, geologic map-making and rock formations take up his daily work schedule.

At the moment, Mr. Reger and the nearly dozen geologists on staff at the Maryland Geological Survey office in downtown Baltimore are mapping sinkholes in the Hagerstown area, where limestone in the bedrock has eroded from subsurface water flow.

“What’s above it is just a bridge of soil,” Mr. Reger said. “After awhile, these bridges can’t support their own weight.”

The result can be the kind of sinkholes that collapse building developments and roadways.

The Frederick Valley is the worst for sinkholes in Maryland because of its large limestone deposits, he said. Although only about 50 or 60 sinkholes are commonly known in the Frederick area, the actual number is closer to 1,800.

Mr. Reger’s interest in geology dates from college at the University of Maryland, when Geology I was the only science elective that fit into his class schedule.

“A light went off when I was taking Geology I,” Mr. Reger said. “It comes down to curiosity about the Earth in general and what makes it tick.”

He eventually earned a doctoral degree at West Virginia University in geomorphology, or the study of the shapes and processes in land formations.

After teaching college geology, he joined the Maryland Geological Survey in 1983, where he continues to educate the public.

Part of his days involve reading and answering e-mail from developers and government agencies asking about subsurface hazards of building on specific sites. Students also e-mail when they need help with a science project.

Mr. Reger, 59, usually spends several hours a day at a drafting table, incorporating notes and measurements from field geologists into technical maps. He also edits their reports before they are disseminated publicly.

Among the projects, the geological survey monitors movement of dredging spoils dumped from the Port of Baltimore into the Chesapeake Bay.

The survey also is updating a geologic map of the mountain area of eastern Maryland after inconsistencies were found in previous maps.

Mr. Reger’s occasional field trips usually consist of driving throughout rural areas to map rock formations and elevations.

However, it’s the earthquakes and the seismograph station near Owings Mills that attract the most attention.

The station picked up the rumble from the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the Dec. 26 earthquake that caused the deadly South Asia tsunami.

After the 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean, “We got a good, strong signal on it,” Mr. Reger said. “There were these lines all over the screen, a very intense signal. The fact it was halfway around the world told us it was big.”A

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide