Typically, earthquakes start abruptly - but scientists studying earthquake on a large fault in Alaska might have just found a way to forecast them in advance.
The research team, which included seismologist Yoshi Kaneko of GNS Science, identified types of seismic activity that can precede a normal earthquake. This raises the possibility that real-time monitoring of similar precursory signals from large faults could one day be used as a tool for forecasting earthquakes.
According to GNS Science, the team studied a number of earthquakes on the 180km-long Minto Flats Fault Zone in central Alaska. They found that two quakes some years apart, of magnitude 3.7 and 3.8, were preceded by a “nucleation process.”
To explain the nucleation process, the study created a computer model in which slow slip on a fault transitions to fast slip that results in a normal earthquake. However, Kaneko noted that more work would be needed to confirm the validity of the computer model of the Alaskan nucleation process.
“Research from around the world suggests these types of precursory signals are very rare,” Kaneko said. “We haven’t rigorously searched for this type of signal in New Zealand yet, but we plan to do this in the future.”
“As of now, we know that most earthquakes start abruptly, without any nucleation signals. This fact makes it very difficult to predict earthquakes,” he added.
This research is part of a long-standing collaboration between seismologists Dr. Carl Tape from The University of Alaska Fairbanks and Yoshihiro Kaneko of GNS Science. Kaneko’s research on this project was supported by a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand.