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Concept: Earthquakes


Abnormal increases in radon ((222)Rn, half-life = 3.82 days) activity have occasionally been observed in underground environments before major earthquakes. However, (222)Rn alone could not be used to forecast earthquakes since it can also be increased due to diffusive inputs over its lifetime. Here, we show that a very short-lived isotope, thoron ((220)Rn, half-life = 55.6 s; mean life = 80 s), in a cave can record earthquake signals without interference from other environmental effects. We monitored (220)Rn together with (222)Rn in air of a limestone-cave in Korea for one year. Unusually large (220)Rn peaks were observed only in February 2011, preceding the 2011 M9.0 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake, Japan, while large (222)Rn peaks were observed in both February 2011 and the summer. Based on our analyses, we suggest that the anomalous peaks of (222)Rn and (220)Rn activities observed in February were precursory signals related to the Tohoku-Oki Earthquake. Thus, the (220)Rn-(222)Rn combined isotope pair method can present new opportunities for earthquake forecasting if the technique is extensively employed in earthquake monitoring networks around the world.

Concepts: Future, Japan, Forecasting, Earthquake, Earthquake prediction, Aftershock, 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Earthquakes


In November 2013, a series of earthquakes began along a mapped ancient fault system near Azle, Texas. Here we assess whether it is plausible that human activity caused these earthquakes. Analysis of both lake and groundwater variations near Azle shows that no significant stress changes were associated with the shallow water table before or during the earthquake sequence. In contrast, pore-pressure models demonstrate that a combination of brine production and wastewater injection near the fault generated subsurface pressures sufficient to induce earthquakes on near-critically stressed faults. On the basis of modelling results and the absence of historical earthquakes near Azle, brine production combined with wastewater disposal represent the most likely cause of recent seismicity near Azle. For assessing the earthquake cause, our research underscores the necessity of monitoring subsurface wastewater formation pressures and monitoring earthquakes having magnitudes of ∼M2 and greater. Currently, monitoring at these levels is not standard across Texas or the United States.

Concepts: Causality, Water, United States, Earthquake, Earthquakes


Why recent large earthquakes caused shaking stronger than shown on earthquake hazard maps for common return periods is under debate. Explanations include: (1) Current probabilistic seismic hazard analysis (PSHA) is deficient. (2) PSHA is fine but some map parameters are wrong. (3) Low-probability events consistent with a map sometimes occur. This issue has two parts. Verification involves how well maps implement PSHA (“have we built the map right?”). Validation asks how well maps forecast shaking (“have we built the right map?”). We explore how well a map can ideally perform by simulating an area’s shaking history and comparing “observed” shaking to that predicted by a map generated for the same parameters. The simulations yield shaking distributions whose mean is consistent with the map, but individual shaking histories show large scatter. Infrequent large earthquakes cause shaking much stronger than mapped, as observed. Hence, PSHA seems internally consistent and can be regarded as verified. Validation is harder because an earthquake history can yield shaking higher or lower than the hazard map without being inconsistent. As reality gives only one history, it is hard to assess whether misfit between a map and actual shaking reflects chance or a map biased by inappropriate parameters.

Concepts: Validation, Map, Earthquake, Seismology, Verification, Verification and validation, Earthquakes, Seismic hazard


The March 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake was only the second giant (moment magnitude Mw ≥ 9.0) earthquake to occur in the last 50 years and is the most recent to be recorded using modern geophysical techniques. Available data place high-resolution constraints on the kinematics of earthquake rupture, which have challenged prior knowledge about how much a fault can slip in a single earthquake and the seismic potential of a partially coupled megathrust interface. But it is not clear what physical or structural characteristics controlled either the rupture extent or the amplitude of slip in this earthquake. Here we use residual topography and gravity anomalies to constrain the geological structure of the overthrusting (upper) plate offshore northeast Japan. These data reveal an abrupt southwest-northeast-striking boundary in upper-plate structure, across which gravity modelling indicates a south-to-north increase in the density of rocks overlying the megathrust of 150-200 kilograms per cubic metre. We suggest that this boundary represents the offshore continuation of the Median Tectonic Line, which onshore juxtaposes geological terranes composed of granite batholiths (in the north) and accretionary complexes (in the south). The megathrust north of the Median Tectonic Line is interseismically locked, has a history of large earthquakes (18 with Mw > 7 since 1896) and produced peak slip exceeding 40 metres in the Tohoku-oki earthquake. In contrast, the megathrust south of this boundary has higher rates of interseismic creep, has not generated an earthquake with MJ > 7 (local magnitude estimated by the Japan Meteorological Agency) since 1923, and experienced relatively minor (if any) co-seismic slip in 2011. We propose that the structure and frictional properties of the overthrusting plate control megathrust coupling and seismogenic behaviour in northeast Japan.

Concepts: Earthquake, Metre, Seismology, Geophysics, Richter magnitude scale, Moment magnitude scale, Earthquakes, Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale


Large earthquakes occur in rocks undergoing high-pressure/low-temperature metamorphism during subduction. Rhythmic major-element zoning in garnet is a common product of such metamorphism, and one that must record a fundamental subduction process. We argue that rhythmic major-element zoning in subduction zone garnets from the Franciscan Complex, California, developed in response to growth-dissolution cycles driven by pressure pulses. Using electron probe microanalysis and novel techniques in Raman and synchrotron Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy, we demonstrate that at least four such pressure pulses, of magnitude 100-350 MPa, occurred over less than 300,000 years. These pressure magnitude and time scale constraints are most consistent with the garnet zoning having resulted from periodic overpressure development-dissipation cycles, related to pore-fluid pressure fluctuations linked to earthquake cycles. This study demonstrates that some metamorphic reactions can track individual earthquake cycles and thereby opens new avenues to the study of seismicity.

Concepts: Earth, Geology, Earthquake, Garnet, Metamorphic rock, Seismology, Subduction, Earthquakes


Our understanding of the frequency of large earthquakes at timescales longer than instrumental and historical records is based mostly on paleoseismic studies of fast-moving plate-boundary faults. Similar study of intraplate faults has been limited until now, because intraplate earthquake recurrence intervals are generally long (10s to 100s of thousands of years) relative to conventional paleoseismic records determined by trenching. Long-term variations in the earthquake recurrence intervals of intraplate faults therefore are poorly understood. Longer paleoseismic records for intraplate faults are required both to better quantify their earthquake recurrence intervals and to test competing models of earthquake frequency (e.g., time-dependent, time-independent, and clustered). We present the results of U-Th dating of calcite veins in the Loma Blanca normal fault zone, Rio Grande rift, New Mexico, United States, that constrain earthquake recurrence intervals over much of the past ∼550 ka-the longest direct record of seismic frequency documented for any fault to date. The 13 distinct seismic events delineated by this effort demonstrate that for >400 ka, the Loma Blanca fault produced periodic large earthquakes, consistent with a time-dependent model of earthquake recurrence. However, this time-dependent series was interrupted by a cluster of earthquakes at ∼430 ka. The carbon isotope composition of calcite formed during this seismic cluster records rapid degassing of CO2, suggesting an interval of anomalous fluid source. In concert with U-Th dates recording decreased recurrence intervals, we infer seismicity during this interval records fault-valve behavior. These data provide insight into the long-term seismic behavior of the Loma Blanca fault and, by inference, other intraplate faults.

Concepts: Geology, Earthquake, Earthquake engineering, Seismic wave, Seismology, Fault, Earthquakes, Intraplate earthquake


The physical mechanism of the anthropogenic triggering of large earthquakes on active faults is studied on the basis of experimental phenomenology, i.e., that earthquakes occur on active tectonic faults, that crustal stress values are those measured in situ and, on active faults, comply to the values of the stress drop measured for real earthquakes, that the static friction coefficients are those inferred on faults, and that the effective triggering stresses are those inferred for real earthquakes. Deriving the conditions for earthquake nucleation as a time-dependent solution of the Tresca-Von Mises criterion applied in the framework of poroelasticity yields that active faults can be triggered by fluid overpressures < 0.1 MPa. Comparing this with the deviatoric stresses at the depth of crustal hypocenters, which are of the order of 1-10 MPa, we find that injecting in the subsoil fluids at the pressures typical of oil and gas production and storage may trigger destructive earthquakes on active faults at a few tens of kilometers. Fluid pressure propagates as slow stress waves along geometric paths operating in a drained condition and can advance the natural occurrence of earthquakes by a substantial amount of time. Furthermore, it is illusory to control earthquake triggering by close monitoring of minor "foreshocks", since the induction may occur with a delay up to several years.

Concepts: Force, Fluid mechanics, Liquid, Pressure, Classical mechanics, Friction, Triboelectric effect, Earthquakes


At subduction zones, transient aseismic slip occurs either as afterslip following a large earthquake or as episodic slow slip events during the interseismic period. Afterslip and slow slip events are usually considered as distinct processes occurring on separate fault areas governed by different frictional properties. Continuous GPS (Global Positioning System) measurements following the 2016 Mw (moment magnitude) 7.8 Ecuador earthquake reveal that large and rapid afterslip developed at discrete areas of the megathrust that had previously hosted slow slip events. Regardless of whether they were locked or not before the earthquake, these areas appear to persistently release stress by aseismic slip throughout the earthquake cycle and outline the seismic rupture, an observation potentially leading to a better anticipation of future large earthquakes.

Concepts: Earth, Geology, Earthquake, Global Positioning System, Global navigation satellite system, GPS, Subduction, Earthquakes


This article evaluates the occurrence of 0 [Formula: see text]M[Formula: see text] 8 earthquake data sets for the period of 50 years (that is, January 1, 1966 to December 31, 2015) in African and Western Asia region. It is bounded by latitude 40° S to 40° N and longitude 30° W to 60° E with the focal depth of 0-700 km. Seventy seven thousand, six hundred and ninety-six data points were presented for the analysis. The data used were extracted from earthquake catalog of Advanced National Seismic system via, an official website of the Northern California Earthquake Data Centre, USA. Each datum comprised the earthquake occurrence date, time of the earthquake occurrence, epicenter’s coordinates, focal depth and magnitude. The Gutenberg-Richter’s relationship being the longest observed empirical relationship in seismology, analysis of variance and time series were used to analyze the seismicity of the study area. Annual distributions of earthquake occurrence based on magnitude variations with the limit 0 [Formula: see text]M[Formula: see text] 8 were presented. The two constants a and b in the Gutenberg-Richter’s equation, magnitude of completeness (MC) adjusted R-Square andF-value for the period of 1966-1975, 1976-1985, 1986-1995, 1996-2005, 2006-2015, and the entire period of investigation ranging from 1966 to 2015 were determined so as to investigate the variations of these parameters on earthquake occurrence over time. The histograms of earthquake occurrence against magnitude of earthquakes for the selected years (1966-1975, 1976-1985, 1986-1995, 1996-2005, 2006-2015, and 1966-2015), and the decadal frequency distributions of earthquake occurrence were also plotted. The focal depth occurrence for each magnitude bins (0-0.9, 1-1.9, 2-2.9, 3-3.9, 4-4.9, 5-5.9, 6-6.9, 7-7.9, 8-8.9) were grouped into shallow, intermediate, and deep depths ranging from 0 to 70, 71 to 300, and 301 to 700 km as being used in seismology. The neural network analysis was also applied to the magnitude of the earthquake. The network uses a time series magnitude data as input with the output being the magnitude of the following day. If the nature of the earthquakes time series is stochastic, modeling and prediction is possible. The earthquake data sets presented in this article can further be adopted in the study of seismicity pattern,b-value using series of models, earthquake prediction and variations of earthquake parameters on African and/or Arabian plates. When this approach is integrated with other technique(s), it can provide insights to stability of African lithospehric plates especially the coastal region of Africa.

Concepts: Analysis of variance, Earthquake, Earthquake engineering, Seismic wave, Seismology, Earthquake prediction, Epicenter, Earthquakes


Since the beginning of the 1980s, when Mandelbrot observed that earthquakes occur on ‘fractal’ self-similar sets, many studies have investigated the dynamical mechanisms that lead to self-similarities in the earthquake process. Interpreting seismicity as a self-similar process is undoubtedly convenient to bypass the physical complexities related to the actual process. Self-similar processes are indeed invariant under suitable scaling of space and time. In this study, we show that long-range dependence is an inherent feature of the seismic process, and is universal. Examination of series of cumulative seismic moment both in Italy and worldwide through Hurst’s rescaled range analysis shows that seismicity is a memory process with a Hurst exponent H ≈ 0.87. We observe that H is substantially space- and time-invariant, except in cases of catalog incompleteness. This has implications for earthquake forecasting. Hence, we have developed a probability model for earthquake occurrence that allows for long-range dependence in the seismic process. Unlike the Poisson model, dependent events are allowed. This model can be easily transferred to other disciplines that deal with self-similar processes.

Concepts: Earthquake, Earthquake engineering, Seismic wave, Seismology, Earthquake prediction, Richter magnitude scale, Moment magnitude scale, Earthquakes