California scientists credit synthetic aperture radar imagery from the European Space Agency with making possible new ways to depict earthquake fault zones and uncovering unusual earthquake-related deformations. Their study of imagery from a 1999 earthquake in the western US could provide a new way to identify active faults and help track when the last earthquake occurred on a fault zone.
Writing in last week’s issue of Science magazine, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, and the California Institute of Technology detailed their studies of the so-called “Hector Mine” earthquake, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that tore through 28 miles of faults in the Mojave Desert. Named after a nearby abandoned mine in the remote area, the earthquake caused virtually no damage. It was, however, the “perfect” event to use satellite and radar technologies to document unique characteristics of faults, said Scripps’ Yuri Fialko, the study’s lead author.
The earthquake was comprehensively imaged with interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), which uses a series of satellite recordings to detect changes in the Earth’s surface. The most surprising finding that came out of the analysis of the imagery was the first evidence that faults can move backwards.
“Even small stress perturbations from distant earthquakes can cause faults to move a little bit, but it’s only been known to cause this motion in a forward sense,” Fialko said in a Scripps announcement of the study’s publication in Science. “Here we observed the faults coming backwards, due to relatively small stress changes, which is really quite unusual.”
Henri Laur | alfa
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