Some massive earthquakes like the one that generated the recent tsunami in South Asia are preceded by slight sinking along nearby coastlines two to five years before the rupture, according to a new study by scientists from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.
If coastal subsidence is common before subduction zone quakes, areas such as those ringing the Pacific Rim could be on the lookout for subsidence as a warning of possible future megathrust quakes like the Dec. 26 9.0 Sumatra-Andaman Islands earthquake, the researchers say. "In areas along subduction zones, like the Northwest coast of the United States, we should look to see where the land has subsided and put instruments there to monitor it," said Jere Lipps, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and study coauthor. "If the land continues to subside instead of relaxing back to normal, it could indicate a big earthquake and a tsunami might occur some time in the next few years."
Subduction zones are areas where one of the Earths tectonic plates slips under another, raising mountain ranges along the margin sprinkled with volcanoes. Quakes occur when the edge of the overlying plate sticks to the subducting plate, causing a slight dip nearest the zone and a slight bulge farther away. Eventually, the stuck edge lets go in a massive quake, after which the margin relaxes to pre-quake levels. Because plates thrust over one another in these zones, the quakes are referred to as megathrust earthquakes. They often generate tsunamis.
Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
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