24 July 2024
Underground rupture network challenges earthquake models

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Understanding the Underground Rupture Network in Earthquakes

Earthquakes have long been studied as a result of stress release along a single fault plane. However, recent research has shed light on a more complex picture, indicating that earthquakes may involve a dense network of fault planes. A study conducted by researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), in collaboration with the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and international partners, has revealed a multifault network in earthquake zones, challenging conventional wisdom. This study, published in the journal Nature, provides valuable insights into the behavior of underground ruptures during seismic events.

Mapping Earthquake Activity with Seismometers

In a recent investigation led by Dr. Caroline Chalumeau from KIT, a series of earthquakes in Ecuador was analyzed using a dense network of 100 seismometers. These earthquakes occurred in a subduction zone where the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the continental South American Plate. The study, part of the “High-resolution imaging of the subduction fault in the Pedernales Earthquake Rupture zone” (HIPER) experiment, utilized advanced techniques, including artificial intelligence, to map over 1,500 earthquakes and their associated fault planes at depths of 15 to 20 kilometers.

The researchers observed that seismic activity was not confined to a single fault plane but rather occurred on multiple fault planes within a primary region, including the main earthquake, and a secondary region of aftershocks. These findings suggest that stress release during earthquakes may involve a network of fault planes rather than a singular rupture, challenging previous assumptions.

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Implications for Earthquake Hazard Assessment

The discovery of a multifault network in earthquake zones has significant implications for earthquake hazard assessment and modeling. By understanding the complex nature of underground ruptures and the distribution of seismic activity across multiple fault planes, scientists can improve earthquake forecasting and risk assessment in subduction zones. The study’s findings highlight the importance of considering a fault network approach when studying earthquake behavior and aftershock propagation.

Prof. Onno Oncken from the GFZ emphasizes the importance of this work in providing a sharp seismological image of seismogenic plate boundaries. By refining existing geological observations and offering new insights into aftershock propagation mechanisms, the study challenges previous assumptions and opens up new avenues for earthquake research.

Future Directions in Earthquake Research

The research conducted by Dr. Chalumeau and her team not only enhances our understanding of earthquake dynamics but also paves the way for future studies on seismic activity and fault interactions. The identification of a multifault network in earthquake zones prompts a reevaluation of current earthquake models and the incorporation of this new perspective into seismic hazard assessments.

Professor Andreas Rietbrock from KIT highlights the significance of these findings in shaping future earthquake modeling and the study of aseismic slips, which are plate movements without associated earthquakes. By acknowledging the complexity of underground rupture networks and the interconnected nature of fault planes, researchers can better predict and mitigate earthquake hazards in vulnerable regions.

The study’s findings underscore the intricate and multifaceted nature of earthquake activity, urging scientists to adopt a more nuanced approach to studying underground ruptures. By unraveling the complexities of fault networks and seismic interactions, researchers can enhance our ability to forecast and prepare for future seismic events, ultimately contributing to improved earthquake resilience and risk management strategies.

Links to additional Resources:

1. Nature.com 2. Science.org 3. USGS.gov

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Earthquake, Seismometer, Subduction zone

Earthquake
An earthquake – also called a quake, tremor, or temblor – is the shaking of the Earth's surface resulting from a sudden release of energy in the lithosphere that creates seismic waves. Earthquakes can range in intensity, from those so weak they cannot be felt, to those violent enough to...
Read more: Earthquake

Seismometer
A seismometer is an instrument that responds to ground noises and shaking such as caused by quakes, volcanic eruptions, and explosions. They are usually combined with a timing device and a recording device to form a seismograph. The output of such a device—formerly recorded on paper (see picture) or film,...
Read more: Seismometer

Subduction
Subduction is a geological process in which the oceanic lithosphere and some continental lithosphere is recycled into the Earth's mantle at convergent boundaries. Where the oceanic lithosphere of a tectonic plate converges with the less dense lithosphere of a second plate, the heavier plate dives beneath the second plate and...
Read more: Subduction

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