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Das Projekt GANSSER

The Kingdom of Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas. The country underscores its geographic seclusion through self-imposed isolation: foreigners may only visit the country in limited numbers and under the guidance of a local travel agency. The purpose of these restrictions is to preserve traditions and cultural purity. A resulting side effect is that, compared to the surrounding areas, little is known about the character of the geological subsurface of Bhutan.

Bhutan is thus one of the few blind spots in the world where only scarce knowledge exists about the seismic hazard. This in spite of its location in the Himalayas, which grow approximately two to four centimeters per year due to the ongoing collision of two continental plates. In such areas, there is generally an increased seismic hazard. This is evidenced by a number of relatively strong earthquakes that have devastated large regions in the Himalayas. Western Nepal and Bhutan have proved to be exceptions to this over the past 120 years. This raises the question as to whether the seismic hazard in these areas is actually relatively low, or whether it has been unusually quiet during this period.

Installation of a Temporary Seismic Network in Bhutan

To find answers to these questions, the Swiss Seismological Service (SED), in collaboration with the Seismology and Geodynamics group at ETH Zurich, will be installing and maintaining a temporary seismic network in Bhutan in 2013. The data obtained will help to improve the understanding of the nature of earthquakes in this region. It will also serve to increase the knowledge about the lithospheric structures in the Himalayas. Thanks to the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the seismologists at ETH Zurich can continue a long-standing Swiss research tradition in Bhutan. Nearly 30 years ago, Augusto Gansser, who passed away in 2012, completed the first geological mapping of the country.

A team of seismologists and technicians will be traveling to Bhutan on January 7, 2013, to install 38 seismometers. Over the course of the year, additional expeditions will ensure that the stations are maintained and that the data flow functions properly. Two individuals will have the opportunity to analyze the collected data within the scope of a doctoral thesis. The friendly relationship with the Geology and Mines Bureau of Bhutan also ensures that the knowledge gained will directly benefit the country.

Since January 7 2013 a team of the SED,  in cooperation with the Seismology and Geodynamics group at ETH Zurich, is installing a temporary seismic network in Bhutan. Here we publish daily news from our colleagues sent from the field by sms or email.

Background information about the GANSSER project can be found further down on this page and on the project website.

An article in the most read local newspaper contains Bhutans view on the GANSSER.

Friday, February 1, 2013 (György Hetényi)

After we installed the last station at a newly improvised site near Thimphu, and after repairing the last cables to bring current at another station near Thimphu, all field participants are more relieved. Today, on the last day in Bhutan, they packed away the remaining material in the storage room and spent a few hours free time in the capital before transferring to Paro, a town close to the airport. All of them will depart back to their home tomorrow morning, with a well-done and complete station network installation that, we hope, will run smoothly and safely. Our first maintenance visit is planned for April.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 (Katrin Plenkers, Team West)

Our expedition will end very soon. In the remaining two days we have to install three more stations. Without the help of our Bhutanese colleagues it would be very difficult. They have their contacts and organize for example in no time an electrician to install an electrical socket. Beside work they find it quite amusing that we still can't handle the amount of chili they add to the food. Only yesterday we both had to cry because of a very spicy chili salad.

Monday, January  28, 2013 (Katrin Plenkers, Team West)

After a night in Thimpu we are driving towards South to install stations bhw04, bhw05 and bhw06. Yesterday we installed bhw08 in an outreach center of a hospital. The building is most of the time empty (good for our measurement). It is only used for special events like vaccination programs, health lessons or elections. We had beautiful conditions to install the station including a sunset on snowy mountains.

Sunday, January 27, 2013 (Men-Andrin Meiner, Team East)

After driving on hilly roads for three weeks we found ourself on a flat road again. Now we are in Samdrup Jongkan, a town at the Indian border. Here in the Southeast of the East array we plan to build two more stations. The sites we haven investigated back home are a prison and a crematorium. We prefer to install the stations at schools and will first ask there.

Saturday, January 26, 2013 (Men-Andrin Meier, Team East)

At the moment we are having breakfast in Wamrong. With this new energy we will install two more stations today. John and Gayley have to drive back to station bhe05. The station hole was made too big. Nevertheless we are on time and sure to finalize everything in the time being.

Thursday, January 24, 2013 (Men-Andrin Meier, Team East)

Today we fixed some problems at the station near Trashigang, the one we have installed yesterday on a hill. Again the local community was very supportive. Additionally we installed station bhe06 further South. Tomorrow we will head towards the Indian boarder and from there on we will drive northwards.

Thursday, January 24, 2013 (Katrin Plenkers, Team West)

To day we are very pleased to stay over night in the royal guest house above Damphu. It is located in a remote forest on the top of a hill. We will sleep in the staff guest house with simple rooms apart from beautiful painted wooden walls. We enjoy the quietness and exotic birds flying around. These attitudes make the place to a perfect site for station bhn03. We installed it in an abandoned store house nearby.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 (Men-Andrin Meier, Team East)

To reach the site of station bhe09 we had to drive through estimated 100 switchbacks. As we finally arrived on the top of a small hill we discovered an idyllic town. The farmer families living there were happy to be involved in a scientific project. They assisted in building the station and offered us tea and some snacks. We owed their generous help with a small contribution to the so called "community budget".

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 (Men-Andrin Meier, Team East)

Half of the group went back to Trashigang to load instruments and material. The other half installed a new station (bhe14) in Trashiyangtse close to the Chinese boarder. They have to stay over night as the way back would take too long.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013  (Eszter Kiraly, Team West)

After waiting for a long time for keys and an electrician we finally installed two stations in school buildings. One of the directors offered us a really good tea with coffee taste. Now we are heading back to Wangdue.

Deployment of the temporary seismic network in Bhutan, half-time summary

After preparation and shipping of our instruments during Autumn 2012, project GANSSER finally started its field operations early this year. From their arrival to Bhutan on January 9th, eight seismologists (six from ETH Zürich, one from France and one from the US) work on the installation of 38 broadband seismic sensors across the country until the end of the month. Below György Hetényi gives a half-time summary of the events:

We spent the first few days on acclimatizing to the new time-zone and buying further equipment in town. One of the challenges was to get sand, of which the river bank had not enough but the minimum quantity to purchase was “one truck”, about 20 times more than we needed. At the end, we negotiated at the construction site of the new Supreme Court to get a couple of bags, which we bargained against a few empty but good quality sand bags! The other challenge was to wait the late delivery of 40 car batteries and 30 large plastic barrels from India patiently – at the end the delay was only slight. By the weekend (12-13th), everything was set to start working in the field.

We split into two groups with two vehicles each. The East Team had to install 18 stations. The West Team (20 stations to install) started installations near Thimphu, and then left to the next valley to install the northernmost stations of the array on the next three days (14-16th). Everything went easily and smoothly, people were open to have stations in their house, office or school storage. Our Bhutanese colleagues were very efficient in negotiating the sites, and our drivers did an excellent job and also helped us to construct the sites. We did not encounter problems bigger than no water in a hotel on one morning, or some rough roads late in the evening. The installation is at very good stage, and we look forward to the coming days to see the development of the network.

Monday, January 21, 2013 (Men-Andrin Meier, Team East)

Instead of the predicted snowy weather we enjoyed a beautiful day continuing our work. The team in charge of the installation of the station in the furthest East of the array (bhe14) were stuck in a muddy road and had to turn. We will try it again tomorrow!

Monday, January 21, 2013 (Katrin Plenkers, Team West)

Yesterday on the way back from our stations "bhw08" and "bhw09" our driver suddenly stopped and bowed in the middle of a mountain road. The only thing we saw was a cyclist in sportive cloths passing by. It turned out that this man was the former king. The king and its achievements are highly regarded in Bhutan.

Sunday, January 20, 2013 (Men-Andrin Meier, Team East)

Arrived today in Trashiyangtse in the Northeast of Bhutan. We already installed four stations in Central Bhutan and today two of the total 14 stations in the East. Country and people are very impressive even though life is pretty simple but important things seem be available. Many things work here that one can't find at other places.  For example free access to education and public health services and they really care about their environment.

Saturday, 19 January, 2013 (Katrin Plenkers, Team West)

Snow in Thimhu. People of all ages engage in snow ball fights. First snow of the year always is a public holiday. Happens not every year. Luckily shops are open and we can buy cables and wood to install another station today.