Nav: Home

New discovery could highlight areas where earthquakes are less likely to occur

June 02, 2020

Scientists from Cardiff University have discovered specific conditions that occur along the ocean floor where two tectonic plates are more likely to slowly creep past one another as opposed to drastically slipping and creating catastrophic earthquakes.

The team have shown that where fractures lie on the ocean floor, at the junction of two tectonic plates, sufficient water is able to enter those fractures and trigger the formation of weak minerals which in turn helps the two tectonic plates to slowly slide past one another.

The new findings, which have been published in the journal Science Advances, could potentially help scientists understand the size of stresses at specific fault lines and whether or not the tectonic plates could possibly trigger an earthquake.

This, in turn, could potentially contribute to solving one of the greatest challenges that faces seismologists, which is to be able to forecast earthquakes with enough precision to save lives and reduce the economic damage that is caused.

Earth's outer layer, the lithosphere, is made up tectonic plates that shift over the underlying asthenosphere like floats on a swimming pool at rates of centimetres per year.

Stresses begin to build up where these plates meet and are relieved at certain times either by earthquakes, where one plate catastrophically slips beneath the other at a rate of meters per second, or by creeping whereby the plates slip slowly past one another at a rate of centimetres per year.

Scientists have for a long time been trying to work out what causes a particular plate boundary to either creep or to produce an earthquake.

It is commonly believed that the slip of tectonic plates at the juncture of an oceanic and continental plate is caused by a weak layer of sedimentary rock on the top of the ocean floor; however, new evidence has suggested that the rocks deeper beneath the surface in the oceanic crust could also play a part and that they may be responsible for creep as opposed to earthquakes.

In their study, the team from Cardiff University and Tsukuba University in Japan looked for geological evidence of creep in rocks along the Japan coast, specifically in rocks from oceanic crust that had been deeply buried in a subduction zone, but through uplift and erosion were now visible on the Earth's surface.

Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques the team were able to observe the microscopic structure of the rocks within the oceanic crust and use them to estimate the amount of stress that was present at the tectonic plate boundary.

Their results showed that the oceanic crust was in fact far weaker than previously assumed by scientists.

"This means that, at least in the ancient Japanese subduction zone, slow creep within weak, wet oceanic crust could allow the ocean lithosphere to slip underneath the overlying continent without earthquakes being generated," said lead-author of the study Christopher Tulley, from Cardiff University's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

"Our study therefore confirms that oceanic crust, typically thought to be strong and prone to deforming by earthquakes, may instead commonly deform by creep, providing it is sufficiently hydrated."
-end-
Notes to editors

1). For more information, please contact:

Michael Bishop
Cardiff University
02920874499/07713325300
Bishopm1@cardiff.ac.uk2). Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Cardiff University

Related Earthquakes Articles:

New discovery could highlight areas where earthquakes are less likely to occur
Scientists from Cardiff University have discovered specific conditions that occur along the ocean floor where two tectonic plates are more likely to slowly creep past one another as opposed to drastically slipping and creating catastrophic earthquakes.
Does accelerated subduction precede great earthquakes?
A strange reversal of ground motion preceded two of the largest earthquakes in history.
Scientists get first look at cause of 'slow motion' earthquakes
An international team of scientists has for the first time identified the conditions deep below the Earth's surface that lead to the triggering of so-called 'slow motion' earthquakes.
Separations between earthquakes reveal clear patterns
So far, few studies have explored how the similarity between inter-earthquake times and distances is related to their separation from initial events.
How earthquakes deform gravity
Researchers at the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ in Potsdam have developed an algorithm that for the first time can describe a gravitational signal caused by earthquakes with high accuracy.
Bridge protection in catastrophic earthquakes
Bridges are the most vulnerable parts of a transport network when earthquakes occur, obstructing emergency response, search and rescue missions and aid delivery, increasing potential fatalities.
Earthquakes, chickens, and bugs, oh my!
Computer scientists at the University of California, Riverside have developed two algorithms that will improve earthquake monitoring and help farmers protect their crops from dangerous insects, or monitor the health of chickens and other animals.
Can a UNICORN outrun earthquakes?
A University of Tokyo Team transformed its UNICORN computing code into an AI-like algorithm to more quickly simulate tectonic plate deformation due to a phenomenon called a ''fault slip,'' a sudden shift that occurs at the plate boundary.
Earthquakes in slow motion
A survey of slow-slip events in Cascadia reveals new insight into the recently discovered phenomenon.
Earthquakes can be predicted five days ahead
An international team of researchers, which includes physicists from HSE University and the RAS Space Research Institute (IKI), have discovered that, with an impending earthquake, the parameters of internal gravity waves (IGWs) can change five days before a seismic event.
More Earthquakes News and Earthquakes Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: IRL Online
Original broadcast date: March 20, 2020. Our online lives are now entirely interwoven with our real lives. But the laws that govern real life don't apply online. This hour, TED speakers explore rules to navigate this vast virtual space.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Falling
There are so many ways to fall–in love, asleep, even flat on your face. This hour, Radiolab dives into stories of great falls.  We jump into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, upend some myths about falling cats, and plunge into our favorite songs about falling. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.