Wenchuan Earthquake In China Could Be Followed By Another Significant Rupture

From ScienceDaily.

Researchers analyzing the May 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China's Sichuan province have found that geological stress has significantly increased on three major fault systems in the region. The magnitude 7.9 quake on May 12 has brought several nearby faults closer to failure and could trigger another major earthquake in the region.

"One great earthquake seems to make the next one more likely, not less," said Stein, who has been collaborating with Lin and Toda for nearly two decades. "We tend to think of earthquakes as relieving stress on a fault. That may be true for the one that ruptured, but not for the adjacent faults."

In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in Izmit, Turkey, was followed four months later by an M7.1 event in nearby Duzce. The devastating December 2004 Sumatra earthquake (M9.2) and tsunami were followed by an M8.7 quake three months later.

"Because the Tibetan Plateau is one of the most seismically active regions in the world, we believe there is credible evidence for a new major quake in this region," said Lin, a senior scientist in WHOI's Department of Geology and Geophysics. "The research community cannot forecast the timing of earthquakes, and there are still significant uncertainties in our models. But the Turkey and Sumatra events indicate that one major earthquake can indeed promote another.

Researchers see it as a domino-like effect, where the movement of one piece of Earth's crust means that another piece must move up, down, or away. While the stress in the crust gets reduced in some locations, it is transferred to other faults nearby.

With earthquakes, we can roughly forecast the probability of activity over broad ranges of time, magnitude, and location, but we cannot determine the exact value for any of these."

In addition to the broad prediction of earthquake triggering, the researchers have also forecasted the rate and distribution of seismic shocks greater than magnitude 6, a prediction that they plan to test from seismic stations over the next decade.

"Earthquakes do not kill people, buildings do," said Lin, who was a high school student in China when the devastating Tangshan earthquake struck. "There needs to be widespread education in earthquake preparedness, as well as systematic inspection of buildings in these regions of heightened risk. Every new building inspection and evacuation plan could potentially save lives."

"We hope the long-term forecasting allows the Chinese government to make it a priority to mitigate future damage," Toda added. "We recommend that Chinese scientists carefully observe changes in seismicity by installing new seismometers in the region."

"The recent quake reminded us that Earth scientists have a tremendous responsibility to work on issues of societal relevance," said Lin. "We don't want to create panic, but there is legitimate cause for concern and we have a major role to play in educating the public about what we know."


Doctors Without Borders Providing Aid in Myanmar and China.


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