Predicting an earthquake is no easy task, more so when there is no way to know crucial details about the event until after it takes place.
However, researchers at Duke University in the United States are now proceeding to take a few steps that are vital in preventing future scourges. Earthquakes of different strengths happen along the so-called fault lines, where two parts of earth fiercely slip past one another. The violent grinding of a rock on rock generates an insane quantity of friction, heat, and chemical responses.
As the rocks slip past one another, they can produce a succession of tremors or shocks that can be felt all the way on the surface. The most massive tremor, called mainshock, hits at the epicenter, and it is usually followed by weaker foreshocks.
Geologists, though, cannot know which is which until after the mainshock occurs. Due to this fact, earthquake predictions are not possible, to any level of precision.
New Method to Predict Earthquakes
Now, a team of engineers at Duke University in North Carolina is making a way into better comprehending the habitual processes that enable earthquakes to erupt. Even though the research doesn’t yet find the method for accurate earthquake prediction, the scientists conducting the study believe they are on the hot lead.
Professor Manolis Veveakis from Duke said: “We still cannot predict earthquakes, but such studies are necessary steps we need to take in order to get there. And in theory, if we could interfere with a fault, we could track its composition and intervene before it becomes unstable. That’s what we do with landslides.”
“But, of course, fault lines are 20 miles underground, and we currently don’t have the drilling capacity to go there.’
Professor Veveakis and research scientist Hadrien Rattez have developed a new method that foresees the behavior and cause of an earthquake in various kinds of rocks. The model offers some highly needed glimpses into the geological processes occurring deep underground, where temperatures and pressures increase to explosive levels.
Dr. Rattez said: “Earthquakes originate along fault lines deep underground where extreme condition can cause chemical reactions and phase transitions that affect the friction between rocks as they move against one another.”
“Our model is the first that can accurately reproduce how the amount of friction decreases as the speed of the rock slippage increases, and all of these mechanical phenomena are unleashed.”
The method was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Experimenting With Simulated Earthquakes
In their tests, the team of engineers mirrored the settings within a fault line by pressing and grinding together two discs of rock at incredibly high velocities. By implementing pressure and friction, the rocks are superheated and begin to melt before throwing off parts of heated rock everywhere. The studies got to pressures of 1,450 pounds per square inch and velocities of one meter per second.
Professor Veveakis said: “In terms of ground movement, these speeds of one meter per second are incredibly fast. And remember that friction is synonymous with resistance. So if the resistance drops to zero, the object will move abruptly. This is an earthquake.”
The researchers put their method through computer simulations in order to establish friction drops across a large number of faults.
Dr. Rattez said: “The model can give physical meaning to observations that we usually cannot understand. It provides a lot of information about the physical mechanisms involved, like the energy required for different phase transitions.”