Researchers at Yale and the University of Washington report that great earthquakes, like the 2004 Sumatra earthquake, may be caused by the build up of sediment on top of subduction zones, suggesting a new way to forecast these most severe earthquakes.
Subduction zones are the boundaries where two tectonic plates collide -- one plate pushes over and one pushes under the other. The most severe earthquakes in recent history -- in Indonesia in 2004, Alaska in 1964, Chile in 1960 and the Pacific Northwest in 1700 -- occurred at subduction zone faults. In the United States, there are subduction zones along the Aleutian margin of Alaska and the Cascadia margin bordering the west coast of the Pacific Northwest.
"Seismologists have long known that the motion of the plates at subduction zones can be smooth and steady in some areas, and sticky and unsteady in other areas," said Mark Brandon, professor of geology and geophysics at Yale and senior author on the paper appearing in the February issue of the journal Geology.
Janet Rettig Emanuel | EurekAlert!
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