Taking the measure of the measurer

Featured image: A USGS “Did you feel it?” map for a M6.5 earthquake that occurred in the Monte Cristo Range in Nevada on May 15th, 2020 (public domain)

Paper: Which earthquake accounts matter?
Authors: Susan E. Hough and Stacey S. Martin

Seismologists who study earthquakes spend much of their time looking at wiggly lines that represent recordings of ground motion from seismometers, but in places where those data aren’t available, we often turn to what we call “macroseismic” data: eyewitness accounts from people who felt the shaking. But when we ask people on the ground, “Did you feel it?,” who is answering?

Continue reading “Taking the measure of the measurer”

Cracking the code of the caramel crust

Featured image: a view of the Calico Basin in the eastern part of the Mojave Desert. Photo by Fred Morledge, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

Paper: Thin crème brûlée rheological structure for the Eastern California Shear Zone
Authors: Shaozhuo Liu, Zheng-Kang Shen, Roland Bürgmann, & Sigurjón Jónsson

A recent paper by Liu and colleagues aims to answer a fundamental question in geodynamics: are Earth’s tectonic plates more like a jelly sandwich, or a crème brûlée? It may sound silly, but these two models for crustal strength describe how tectonic plates might respond to stress changes due to earthquakes.

Continue reading “Cracking the code of the caramel crust”

Shaken, rattled, and rolled

Featured image: an aerial photograph of the Capitolias/Beit-Ras theater, courtesy of the Aerial Photographic Archive of Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME), CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Paper: Two inferred antique earthquake phases recorded in the Roman theater of Beit-Ras/Capitolias (Jordan)
Authors: M. Al-Tawalbeh, R. Jaradat, K. Al-Bashaireh, A. Al-Rawabdeh, A. Gharaibeh, B. Khrisat, and M. Kázmér

One of the biggest questions in earthquake seismology is whether we can see into the future, to forecast seismic activity based on what we know about faults and how they behave. We’re about as likely to accurately predict earthquakes as we are to see the future in a crystal ball, but one way we can improve our forecasts of seismic hazard actually involves looking in the other direction: back into the past.

Continue reading “Shaken, rattled, and rolled”

The strange case of the Kansas earthquake

Featured image: Karst rocks in Segovia, Spain. Photo by Luis Fernández García, CC-BY-SA 2.1.

Paper: Injection-induced earthquakes near Milan, Kansas controlled by karstic networks
Authors: Charlène Joubert, Reza Sohrabi, Justin L. Rubinstein, Gunnar Jansen, Stephen A. Miller

On November 12th, 2014, a magnitude 4.9 earthquake rattled the city of Milan, Kansas. This event was the largest earthquake ever recorded in Kansas, adding to a trend of increasing seismic activity in the state since 2012. What could cause this kind of tectonic excitement in the stable central US?

Continue reading “The strange case of the Kansas earthquake”

How do you break up a continent?

Featured image: Lake Malawi, as seen from space. Image courtesy of ESA/MERIS, CC-BY-SA IGO.

Paper: Preferential localized thinning of lithospheric mantle in the melt-poor Malawi Rift
Authors: E. Hopper, J. B. Gaherty, D. J. Shillington, N. J. Accardo, A. A. Nyblade, B. K. Holtzman, C. Havlin, C. A. Scholz, P. R. N. Chindandali, R. W. Ferdinand, G. D. Mulibo, G. Mbogoni

Continental rifting, where one landmass slowly breaks apart into two pieces separated by a brand new ocean basin, is a fundamental part of plate tectonics. But it presents an apparent paradox: the tectonic forces pulling on the plates are thought to be much too weak to break the strong rocks of the continents.

Continue reading “How do you break up a continent?”

Tiny wobbles foreshadow big earthquakes

Featured image: A GPS station in the Sawtooth National Forest near Ketchum, Idaho. Photo by Scott Haefner (USGS).

Paper: Months-long thousand-kilometre-scale wobbling before great subduction earthquakes
Authors: J. R. Bedford, M. Moreno, Z. Deng, O. Oncken, B. Schurr, T. John, J. C. Báez, M. Bevis

We’re always on the lookout for earthquake precursors, indicators that the Earth might be gearing up for some shaking, and geophysicists think they might have found a new one: a small but measurable back-and-forth “wobble” of the land starting several months before very big earthquakes hit.

Continue reading “Tiny wobbles foreshadow big earthquakes”

Climate records written on the seafloor

Featured image: A perspective view of the seafloor at the East Pacific Rise, 9N. Made with GeoMapApp (www.geomapapp.org, CC-BY), and GMRT topography data (Ryan et al. 2009, CC-BY).

Paper: Do sea level variations influence mid-ocean ridge magma supply? A test using crustal thickness and bathymetry data from the East Pacific Rise
Authors: B. Boulahanis, S. M. Carbotte, P. J. Huybers, M. R. Nedimovic, O. Aghaei, J. P. Canales, and C. H. Langmuir

Many of our records of past sea level come from local measurements from coastal towns logged over decades or centuries, or are estimated from ice or sediment cores spanning the last few thousand years, but new research suggests that much longer records can be found in an unlikely place: imprinted deep underground in the oceanic crust.

Continue reading “Climate records written on the seafloor”

How to locate oceanic earthquakes without getting your feet wet

Photo of a fence offset by fault slip on the San Andreas during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

Featured image: A fence broken by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, by G. K. Gilbert. Public domain.

For the millions of people living near the San Andreas fault zone in California, the billion-dollar question is when the next “big one” is going to happen.

Continue reading “How to locate oceanic earthquakes without getting your feet wet”