Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Drilling Into an Active Earthquake Fault in New Zealand

24.09.2014

Three University of Michigan geologists are participating in an international effort to drill nearly a mile beneath the surface of New Zealand this fall to bring back rock samples from an active fault known to generate major earthquakes.

The goal of the Deep Fault Drilling Project is to better understand earthquake processes by sampling the Alpine Fault, which is expected to trigger a large event in the coming decades.


Photo by Ben van der Pluijm

An aerial view of the Alpine Fault at Gaunt Creek, where the Deep Fault Drilling Project is scheduled to begin next month. Three University of Michigan geologists are participating in the $2.5 million international project, which will drill nearly a mile beneath the surface and return rock samples from an active fault known to generate major earthquakes.

"We're trying to understand why some faults are more earthquake-prone than others, and that requires fundamental knowledge about the processes at work," said Ben van der Pluijm, the Bruce R. Clark Collegiate Professor of Geology in the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Van der Pluijm and two of his EES colleagues—doctoral student Austin Boles and research scientist Anja Schleicher—are part of the team scheduled to start the two-month drilling project early next month. Schleicher will spend October at the site, and Boles will be there for about six weeks starting in early November.

It will be only the second science project to drill deep into an active earthquake fault and return samples. Several years ago, scientists drilled a nearly 2-mile-deep hole into California's San Andreas Fault. Van der Pluijm was a member of that team, as well.

"I hope we find something different this time, a different rock signature that contrasts with what we saw at the San Andreas," he said.

The goal is to drill 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) into the 530-mile-long Alpine Fault, which marks the boundary between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, on New Zealand's South Island. Though most of the movement along the fault is lateral rather than vertical, the fault is responsible for lifting the Southern Alps, the rugged mountain range featured in the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Earthquakes occur on the Alpine Fault every 200 to 400 years at magnitudes of 7.5 to 8.0, with an average time between successive large earthquakes of about 330 years. Though earthquakes of that size that originate at shallow depths are capable of tremendous damage, the region is sparsely populated.

The last Alpine Fault quake occurred in 1717, and the probability of another big one occurring there in the next 50 years has been calculated at about 28 percent. So the $2.5 million Deep Fault Drilling Project presents a rare opportunity to collect and analyze samples from a major fault before it breaks.

The task for van der Pluijm and his colleagues is to analyze the possible role of clay minerals and friction melting in the fault zone. Radiometric dating, X-ray studies and isotopic-analysis techniques will be used to determine how much clay is in the rock samples and when those clays formed, as well as the likely source of the water that helped produce them.

"The information we can extract from these clays is remarkably rich," said Boles, who will use data from the New Zealand study in his doctoral dissertation. "These clay minerals are a key tool that we can use to better understand the physical and chemical processes happening in an active fault."

Clay minerals can help reduce friction and heat generation along a fault, lubricating it so that pressure is released through steady, relatively small and nondestructive "creeping" motions rather than the periodic violent jolts known as earthquakes.

Creeping motions were observed along the portion of the San Andreas Fault drilled by scientists several years ago. Temperatures in that fault were relatively low, and clay-rich rocks from the active zone were returned to the surface.

"We think that clays are a significant player in making faults less earthquake-prone," van der Pluijm said. "We know that the section of the Alpine Fault we'll be drilling has a history of producing large earthquakes. So finding little clay and, instead, evidence for frictional melting in the rock would better fit the large-earthquake scenario. That would be a fantastic breakthrough."

In addition to sampling the fault during the two-month drilling program, researchers will install permanent pressure, temperature and seismic-monitoring sensors in the borehole.

The U-M researchers are hoping to obtain a rock sample about the volume of a baseball from deep within the Alpine Fault. That would be plenty to complete their various studies, which are funded by the National Science Foundation and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.

"Getting the right samples is more important than the amount," van der Pluijm said. "Returning samples to the surface from depth is always a challenge, but I'm confident that it will work."

Ben van der Pluijm: http://bit.ly/1B38LZW

Contact Information

Jim Erickson, (734) 647-1842, ericksn@umich.edu

Jim Erickson | newswise
Further information:
http://umich.edu/

Further reports about: Alpine Fault Pluijm Zealand clay minerals earthquake large earthquakes motions pressure

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>