Interdisciplinary research reveals interactions between plate tectonics, fluids and quakes
The largest earthquakes occur where oceanic plates move beneath continents. Obviously, water trapped in the boundary between both plates has a dominant influence on the earthquake rupture process.
Mechanism of an Earthquake (Image: Manuela Dziggel, GFZ)
Analyzing the great Chile earthquake of February, 27th, 2010, a group of scientists from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and from Liverpool University found that the water pressure in the pores of the rocks making up the plate boundary zone takes the key role (Nature Geoscience, 28.03.2014).
The stress build-up before an earthquake and the magnitude of subsequent seismic energy release are substantially controlled by the mechanical coupling between both plates.
Studies of recent great earthquakes have revealed that the lateral extent of the rupture and magnitude of these events are fundamentally controlled by the stress build-up along the subduction plate interface.
Stress build-up and its lateral distribution in turn are dependent on the distribution and pressure of fluids along the plate interface.
“We combined observations of several geoscience disciplines - geodesy, seismology, petrology. In addition, we have a unique opportunity in Chile that our natural observatory there provides us with long time series of data,” says Onno Oncken, director of the GFZ-Department “Geodynamics and Geomaterials”.
Earth observation (Geodesy) using GPS technology and radar interferometry today allows a detailed mapping of mechanical coupling at the plate boundary from the Earth’s surface. A complementary image of the rock properties at depth is provided by seismology. Earthquake data yield a high resolution three-dimensional image of seismic wave speeds and their variations in the plate interface region.
Data on fluid pressure and rock properties, on the other hand, are available from laboratory measurements. All these data had been acquired shortly before the great Chile earthquake of February 2010 struck with a magnitude of 8.8.
“For the first time, our results allow us to map the spatial distribution of the fluid pressure with unprecedented resolution showing how they control mechanical locking and subsequent seismic energy release”, explains Professor Oncken. “Zones of changed seismic wave speeds reflect zones of reduced mechanical coupling between plates”.
This state supports creep along the plate interface. In turn, high mechanical locking is promoted in lower pore fluid pressure domains. It is these locked domains that subsequently ruptured during the Chile earthquake releasing most seismic energy causing destruction at the Earth’s surface and tsunami waves.
The authors suggest the spatial pore fluid pressure variations to be related to oceanic water accumulated in an altered oceanic fracture zone within the Pacific oceanic plate. Upon subduction of the latter beneath South America the fluid volumes are released and trapped along the overlying plate interface, leading to increasing pore fluid pressures.
This study provides a powerful tool to monitor the physical state of a plate interface and to forecast its seismic potential.
Marcos Moreno et al.: “Subduction locking and fluid pressure distribution correlate before the 2010 Chile earthquake”, Nature Geoscience, Vol. 7(2014), Issue 4, pp. 292-296, DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2102, 28.03.2014Franz Ossing Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum - Head, Public Relations - Telegrafenberg 14473 Potsdam / Germany e-mail: email@example.com Tel. +49 (0)331-288 1040 Fax +49 (0)331-288 1044
Franz Ossing | GFZ Potsdam
New interdisciplinary collaborative research project on the long-term effects of cancer treatment
27.10.2015 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Physicists shrink particle accelerator
06.10.2015 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY
Chemical weathering of rocks over geological time scales is an important control on the stability of the climate. This weathering is, in turn, highly dependent...
Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.
The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
01.12.2015 | Event News
30.11.2015 | Event News
25.11.2015 | Event News
01.12.2015 | Life Sciences
01.12.2015 | Life Sciences
01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences