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Underground Water Regulates Earthquakes

Earthquakes happen to be surface (shallow-focus), intermediate and deep ones. Seismologists mark out the boundary between the first two types at the depth of about 70 kilometers, its nature being still unclear. Russian researchers, specialists of the Institute of Maritime Geology and Geophysics (Far-Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences), Geophysical Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology (Russian Academy of Sciences) have put forward a hypothesis that the seismic boundary is simultaneously the lower boundary of hydrosphere. The earthquakes character depends on underground water.

Earthquakes taking place “at different sides of the boundary” differ from each other not only by the depth. Shallow-focus earthquakes – they account for about 85% of all recorded events - often take place under the influence of periodic external effects, for example, rising tides, which disturb the entire lithosphere of the Earth. Periodicity is not inherent to deeper earthquakes, they always occur by chance. The conclusion was made by the researchers who had analyzed the world ISC/NEIC catalogues data that covers the 1964-2005 period and takes into account about 80,000 events.

Seismologists connect existence of the 70-kilometer boundary with water state changes in the interior of the Earth. The deeper the water molecules are located, the more compressed they are. At the depth of about 70 kilometers, the water compression strain index increases up to 1.3. This is the way water molecules are squeezed in the crystal lattice. Above this boundary, water exists mainly in free phase, below the boundary – water embeds into the rock crystallite composition.

The rock containing free water (above the boundary) promptly reacts to periodic tidal effects, even the faintest ones. Pressure changes and respective environment density changes cause formation of a crack system, where free water rushes to. The cracks widen, increase, and rock decay gives birth to a seismic focus. In the rock, where free water is absent (below the boundary), weak tidal effects are not accumulated and deformation does not grow.

So, the seismic boundary at the depth of about 70 kilometers (where, according to the researchers’ assumption, the lower hydrosphere boundary runs) separates the events that are able to react to external action and the ones incapable of such reaction. Therefore, this boundary separates different types of earthquakes. However, it is still a hypothesis that requires experimental validation.

Nadezda Markina | alfa
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