Nav: Home

Analysis of major earthquakes supports stress reduction assumptions

February 14, 2018

A comprehensive analysis of 101 major earthquakes around the Pacific ring of fire between 1990 and 2016 shows that most of the aftershock activity occurred on the margins of the areas where the faults slipped a lot during the main earthquakes. The findings support the idea that the area of large slip during a major earthquake is unlikely to rupture again for a substantial time.

The idea that earthquakes relieve stress on faults in the Earth's crust makes intuitive sense and underlies the common assumption that the portion of a fault that has just experienced an earthquake is relatively safe for some time. But not all studies have supported this, according to Thorne Lay, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz.

"This intuition has been challenged by statistical treatments of seismic data that indicate that, based on the clustering of earthquakes in space and time, the area that has just slipped is actually more likely to have another failure," Lay said. "The truth appears to be more nuanced. Yes, the area that slipped a lot is unlikely to slip again, as the residual stress on the fault has been lowered to well below the failure level, but the surrounding areas have been pushed toward failure in many cases, giving rise to aftershocks and the possibility of an adjacent large rupture sooner rather than later."

In the new study, published February 14 in Science Advances, Lay and other seismologists at UC Santa Cruz and Caltech took advantage of advanced slip-imaging methods applied to recent earthquakes of magnitude 7 or greater. When they examined the locations of aftershocks with respect to the slip during the mainshock, they found that very few aftershocks occur in the regions of a fault that had a large amount of slip, and aftershocks that do occur in the slip zone tend to be weak, with negligible additional slip. Most aftershock activity occurs on the margins of the area that slipped in the mainshock.

"This produces a halo of aftershocks surrounding the rupture and indicates that the large-slip zone is not likely to have immediate rerupture," Lay said.

These findings indicate that the stress reduction during a major earthquake is large and pervasive over the ruptured surface of the fault. Stress will eventually build up again on that portion of the fault through frictional resistance to the gradual motions of the tectonic plates of Earth's crust, but that's a very slow process. Although immediate rerupture of the large-slip zone is unlikely, regional clustering of earthquakes is likely to occur due to the increased stress outside the main slip zone.

The findings also suggest that if unusually intense aftershock activity is observed within the high-slip zone, a larger earthquake in the immediate vicinity of the first event might still be possible. The authors noted that earthquake sequences are highly complex and involve variable amounts of slip and stress reduction.
In addition to Lay, the coauthors of the paper include first author Nadav Wetzler, a former postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Cruz now at the Geological Survey of Israel; Emily Brodsky at UC Santa Cruz; and Hiroo Kanamori at the California Institute of Technology.

University of California - Santa Cruz

Related Stress Articles:

Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.
Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.
Maternal stress at conception linked to children's stress response at age 11
A new study published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease finds that mothers' stress levels at the moment they conceive their children are linked to the way children respond to life challenges at age 11.
A new way to see stress -- using supercomputers
Supercomputer simulations show that at the atomic level, material stress doesn't behave symmetrically.
Beware of evening stress
Stressful events in the evening release less of the body's stress hormones than those that happen in the morning, suggesting possible vulnerability to stress in the evening.
More Stress News and Stress Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...