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Concept: Earthquake prediction


Abnormal increases in radon ((222)Rn, half-life = 3.82 days) activity have occasionally been observed in underground environments before major earthquakes. However, (222)Rn alone could not be used to forecast earthquakes since it can also be increased due to diffusive inputs over its lifetime. Here, we show that a very short-lived isotope, thoron ((220)Rn, half-life = 55.6 s; mean life = 80 s), in a cave can record earthquake signals without interference from other environmental effects. We monitored (220)Rn together with (222)Rn in air of a limestone-cave in Korea for one year. Unusually large (220)Rn peaks were observed only in February 2011, preceding the 2011 M9.0 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake, Japan, while large (222)Rn peaks were observed in both February 2011 and the summer. Based on our analyses, we suggest that the anomalous peaks of (222)Rn and (220)Rn activities observed in February were precursory signals related to the Tohoku-Oki Earthquake. Thus, the (220)Rn-(222)Rn combined isotope pair method can present new opportunities for earthquake forecasting if the technique is extensively employed in earthquake monitoring networks around the world.

Concepts: Future, Japan, Forecasting, Earthquake, Earthquake prediction, Aftershock, 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Earthquakes


Earthquake forecasting is the ultimate challenge for seismologists, because it condenses the scientific knowledge about the earthquake occurrence process, and it is an essential component of any sound risk mitigation planning. It is commonly assumed that, in the short term, trustworthy earthquake forecasts are possible only for typical aftershock sequences, where the largest shock is followed by many smaller earthquakes that decay with time according to the Omori power law. We show that the current Italian operational earthquake forecasting system issued statistically reliable and skillful space-time-magnitude forecasts of the largest earthquakes during the complex 2016-2017 Amatrice-Norcia sequence, which is characterized by several bursts of seismicity and a significant deviation from the Omori law. This capability to deliver statistically reliable forecasts is an essential component of any program to assist public decision-makers and citizens in the challenging risk management of complex seismic sequences.

Concepts: Forecasting, Earthquake, Earthquake engineering, Seismology, Earthquake prediction, Aftershock, Earthquake storm, Seismometer


Geothermal power is a growing energy source; however, efforts to increase production are tempered by concern over induced earthquakes. Although increased seismicity commonly accompanies geothermal production, induced earthquake rate cannot currently be forecast based on fluid injection volumes or any other operational parameters. We show that at the Salton Sea Geothermal Field, the total volume of fluid extracted or injected tracks the long-term evolution of seismicity. After correcting for the aftershock rate, the net fluid volume (extracted-injected) provides the best correlation with seismicity in recent years. We model the background earthquake rate with a linear combination of injection and net production rates that allows us to track the secular development of the field as the number of earthquakes per fluid volume injected decreases over time.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Earthquake, Earthquake prediction, Geothermal power, Aftershock


The extent to which ongoing seismicity in intraplate regions represents long-lived aftershock activity is unclear. We examined historical and instrumental seismicity in the New Madrid, central U.S. region to determine whether present-day seismicity is composed predominantly of aftershocks of the 1811-1812 earthquake sequence. High aftershock productivity is required to match both the observation of multiple mainshocks and to explain the modern level of activity as aftershocks; synthetic sequences consistent with these observations substantially overpredict the number of M ≥ 6 events that were observed in the last 200 years. Our results imply that ongoing background seismicity in the New Madrid region is driven by ongoing strain accrual processes and that, despite low deformation rates, seismic activity in the zone is not decaying with time.

Concepts: Scientific method, Earthquake, Earthquake engineering, Seismology, Earthquake prediction, Aftershock, Earthquake storm, New Madrid Seismic Zone


Aftershocks are often triggered by static- and/or dynamic-stress changes caused by mainshocks. The relative importance of the two triggering mechanisms is controversial at near-to-intermediate distances. We detected and located 48 previously unidentified large early aftershocks triggered by earthquakes with magnitudes between ≥7 and 8 within a few fault lengths (approximately 300 kilometers), during times that high-amplitude surface waves arrive from the mainshock (less than 200 seconds). The observations indicate that near-to-intermediate-field dynamic triggering commonly exists and fundamentally promotes aftershock occurrence. The mainshocks and their nearby early aftershocks are located at major subduction zones and continental boundaries, and mainshocks with all types of faulting-mechanisms (normal, reverse, and strike-slip) can trigger early aftershocks.

Concepts: Geology, Earthquake, Earthquake prediction, Subduction, Fault, Convergent boundary, Aftershock, Seismology and earthquake terminology


The hypothesis that earthquake foreshocks have a prognostic value is challenged by simulations of the normal behaviour of seismicity, where no distinction between foreshocks, mainshocks and aftershocks can be made. In the former view, foreshocks are passive tracers of a tectonic preparatory process that yields the mainshock (i.e., loading by aseismic slip) while in the latter, a foreshock is any earthquake that triggers a larger one. Although both processes can coexist, earthquake prediction is plausible in the first case while virtually impossible in the second. Here I present a meta-analysis of 37 foreshock studies published between 1982 and 2013 to show that the justification of one hypothesis or the other depends on the selected magnitude interval between minimum foreshock magnitude mmin and mainshock magnitude M. From this literature survey, anomalous foreshocks are found to emerge when mmin < M - 3.0. These results suggest that a deviation from the normal behaviour of seismicity may be observed only when microseismicity is considered. These results are to be taken with caution since the 37 studies do not all show the same level of reliability. These observations should nonetheless encourage new research in earthquake predictability with focus on the potential role of microseismicity.

Concepts: Scientific method, Prediction, Observation, Hypothesis, Normality, Earthquake, Earthquake prediction, Aftershock


The origin and prevalence of triggered seismicity and remote aftershocks are under debate. As a result, they have been excluded from probabilistic seismic hazard assessment and aftershock hazard notices. The 2004 M = 9.2 Sumatra earthquake altered seismicity in the Andaman backarc rift-transform system. Here we show that over a 300-km-long largely transform section of the backarc, M≥4.5 earthquakes stopped for five years, and over a 750-km-long backarc section, the rate of transform events dropped by two-thirds, while the rate of rift events increased eightfold. We compute the propagating dynamic stress wavefield and find the peak dynamic Coulomb stress is similar on the rifts and transforms. Long-period dynamic stress amplitudes, which are thought to promote dynamic failure, are higher on the transforms than on the rifts, opposite to the observations. In contrast to the dynamic stress, we calculate that the mainshock brought the transform segments approximately 0.2 bar (0.02 MPa) farther from static Coulomb failure and the rift segments approximately 0.2 bar closer to static failure, consistent with the seismic observations. This accord means that changes in seismicity rate are sufficiently predictable to be included in post-mainshock hazard evaluations.

Concepts: 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Earthquake, Tsunami, Earthquake engineering, Seismology, Earthquake prediction, Aftershock, Earthquake storm


Characterising the state of stress in the brittle upper-crust is essential in mechanics of faulting, industrial production processes, and operational earthquake forecasting. Nevertheless, unresolved questions concern the variation of pore-fluid with depth and the absolute strength on tectonically active faults. Here we show that, along the San Andreas fault system, the time-delay before the onset of the power-law aftershock decay rate (the c-value) varies by three orders of magnitude in the first 20 km below the surface. Despite the influence of the lithostatic stress, there is no continuous change in c-value with depth. Instead, two decay phases are separated by an abrupt increase at an intermediate depth range of 2-5 km. This transitional regime is the only one observed in fluid-injection-induced seismic areas. This provides strong evidence for the role of fluid and a porosity reduction mechanism at depth of few kilometres in active fault zones. Aftershock statistics can then be used to predict changes in differential shear stress with depth until the brittle-ductile transition is reached.

Concepts: Geology, Earthquake, Earthquake prediction, Fault, Aftershock, Seismology and earthquake terminology, Shear, Structural geology


This article evaluates the occurrence of 0 [Formula: see text]M[Formula: see text] 8 earthquake data sets for the period of 50 years (that is, January 1, 1966 to December 31, 2015) in African and Western Asia region. It is bounded by latitude 40° S to 40° N and longitude 30° W to 60° E with the focal depth of 0-700 km. Seventy seven thousand, six hundred and ninety-six data points were presented for the analysis. The data used were extracted from earthquake catalog of Advanced National Seismic system via, an official website of the Northern California Earthquake Data Centre, USA. Each datum comprised the earthquake occurrence date, time of the earthquake occurrence, epicenter’s coordinates, focal depth and magnitude. The Gutenberg-Richter’s relationship being the longest observed empirical relationship in seismology, analysis of variance and time series were used to analyze the seismicity of the study area. Annual distributions of earthquake occurrence based on magnitude variations with the limit 0 [Formula: see text]M[Formula: see text] 8 were presented. The two constants a and b in the Gutenberg-Richter’s equation, magnitude of completeness (MC) adjusted R-Square andF-value for the period of 1966-1975, 1976-1985, 1986-1995, 1996-2005, 2006-2015, and the entire period of investigation ranging from 1966 to 2015 were determined so as to investigate the variations of these parameters on earthquake occurrence over time. The histograms of earthquake occurrence against magnitude of earthquakes for the selected years (1966-1975, 1976-1985, 1986-1995, 1996-2005, 2006-2015, and 1966-2015), and the decadal frequency distributions of earthquake occurrence were also plotted. The focal depth occurrence for each magnitude bins (0-0.9, 1-1.9, 2-2.9, 3-3.9, 4-4.9, 5-5.9, 6-6.9, 7-7.9, 8-8.9) were grouped into shallow, intermediate, and deep depths ranging from 0 to 70, 71 to 300, and 301 to 700 km as being used in seismology. The neural network analysis was also applied to the magnitude of the earthquake. The network uses a time series magnitude data as input with the output being the magnitude of the following day. If the nature of the earthquakes time series is stochastic, modeling and prediction is possible. The earthquake data sets presented in this article can further be adopted in the study of seismicity pattern,b-value using series of models, earthquake prediction and variations of earthquake parameters on African and/or Arabian plates. When this approach is integrated with other technique(s), it can provide insights to stability of African lithospehric plates especially the coastal region of Africa.

Concepts: Analysis of variance, Earthquake, Earthquake engineering, Seismic wave, Seismology, Earthquake prediction, Epicenter, Earthquakes


Since the beginning of the 1980s, when Mandelbrot observed that earthquakes occur on ‘fractal’ self-similar sets, many studies have investigated the dynamical mechanisms that lead to self-similarities in the earthquake process. Interpreting seismicity as a self-similar process is undoubtedly convenient to bypass the physical complexities related to the actual process. Self-similar processes are indeed invariant under suitable scaling of space and time. In this study, we show that long-range dependence is an inherent feature of the seismic process, and is universal. Examination of series of cumulative seismic moment both in Italy and worldwide through Hurst’s rescaled range analysis shows that seismicity is a memory process with a Hurst exponent H ≈ 0.87. We observe that H is substantially space- and time-invariant, except in cases of catalog incompleteness. This has implications for earthquake forecasting. Hence, we have developed a probability model for earthquake occurrence that allows for long-range dependence in the seismic process. Unlike the Poisson model, dependent events are allowed. This model can be easily transferred to other disciplines that deal with self-similar processes.

Concepts: Earthquake, Earthquake engineering, Seismic wave, Seismology, Earthquake prediction, Richter magnitude scale, Moment magnitude scale, Earthquakes