Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New Madrid fault system may be shutting down

The New Madrid fault system does not behave as earthquake hazard models assume and may be in the process of shutting down, a new study shows.

A team from Purdue and Northwestern universities analyzed the fault motion for eight years using global positioning system measurements and found that it is much less than expected given the 500- to 1,000-year repeat cycle for major earthquakes on that fault. The last large earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone were magnitude 7-7.5 events in 1811 and 1812.

Estimating an accurate earthquake threat for the area, which includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky, is crucial for the communities potentially affected, said Eric Calais, the Purdue researcher who led the study.

"Our findings suggest the steady-state model of quasi-cyclical earthquakes that works well for faults at the boundaries of tectonic plates, such as the San Andreas fault, does not apply to the New Madrid fault," said Calais, who is a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences. "At plate boundaries, faults move at a rate that is consistent with the rate of earthquakes so that past events are a reliable guide to the future. In continents, this does not work. The past is not necessarily a key to the future, which makes estimating earthquake hazard particularly difficult."

The team determined that the ground surrounding the fault system is moving at a rate of less than 0.2 millimeters per year and there is likely no motion. A paper detailing the work is published in the current issue of Science magazine.

Seth Stein, co-author of the paper, said this surface movement represents energy being stored that could be released as an earthquake.

"Building up energy for an earthquake is like saving money for a big purchase," said Stein, the William Deering Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University. "You put money in over a long period of time and then spend it all at once and have to start saving again."

With an earthquake, it is elastic deformation that must be built up. This can be measured using GPS through movements on the surface, he said.

"The slower the ground moves, the longer it takes until the next earthquake, and if it stops moving, the fault could be shutting down," Stein said. "We can't tell whether the recent cluster of big earthquakes in the New Madrid is coming to an end. But the longer the GPS data keep showing no motion, the more likely it seems."

The U.S. Geological Survey-funded study used data recorded at nine GPS antennas mounted in the ground in the earthquake zone.

"GPS technology can measure movement to the thickness of a fishing line," Stein said. "Use of GPS to study earthquakes shows the impact a new technology can have. It lets us see that the world is different than we thought it was."

In the Midwest there are other faults that show no activity today but have evidence of earthquakes occurring within the past 10,000 to 1 million years, Calais said.

"If other faults in the central and eastern U.S. have been active recently, geologically speaking, they could potentially be activated again in the future," he said. "We need to develop a new paradigm for how earthquakes happen at faults that are inside continents."

Calais and Stein are exploring possible explanations for the behavior of faults like the New Madrid. One possibility is that earthquakes in these areas occur in clusters and then migrate to a nearby fault.

"There is the possibility that seismicity migrates with time as earthquakes trigger earthquakes on nearby faults," Calais said. "Geologists studying the seismic history of faults have found that there have been earthquakes on several faults in the central and eastern U.S. and that they seem to produce bursts of earthquakes and then turn off."

The team is doing additional analysis and modeling to study this further.

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081,
Sources: Eric Calais, 765-409-5134,
Seth Stein, 847-491-5265,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Elizabeth K. Gardner | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>