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Earthquake Signals Tectonic Plate Ripping Apart

Three papers in this week’s issue of the journal Nature present startling new findings about an earthquake that struck the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra last April. As reported by Andrea Mustain at Our Amazing Planet, three features of the quake made it unusual: First, it was extremely powerful—at magnitude 8.7, it was the sixth most powerful ever recorded. Second, it struck in the middle of a tectonic plate and not along a plate boundary. Third, when the quake zipped along the initial fault and ran into faults intersecting it at right angles, those intersecting faults ruptured too. Mustain interviewed Thorne Lay, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-author of one of the papers: Lay said that, typically, when earthquakes spread to connecting faults, the rupture rips along … Read entire article »

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Field Update: Drilling Through the Japan Earthquake Fault

After successfully reentering the wellhead on the edge of the Japan Trench on the seafloor 6926 meters (4.3 miles) below the ship, we began drilling. The goal: to drill ~850 meters (2800 feet) below the seafloor across the plate boundary and through the fault that slipped more than 50 meters (164 feet) at this location during the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake causing the enormous tsunami. We will then try installing a temperature observatory down into the hole to measure the remaining frictional heat across the fault. Instead of using the standard top-drive drilling system on the ship to rotate the entire drill stem and create the torque on the drill bit 7-8 kilometers below, as in the previous drilling at the site, this time we used a mud-motor located just above … Read entire article »

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Field Update: Like Threading a Needle from 7 kilometers away

The goal we are working towards on the JFAST2 expedition is to install an observatory of temperature sensors across the fault zone that slipped more than 50 meters during the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The temperature sensors will allow us to measure the frictional heat and determine the strength of the fault.  To accomplish a critical step of the installation, we must first find the wellhead we installed last May on the seafloor 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) below the ship, reenter it with the drill bit, and then drill down about 850 meters (2800 feet) through the plate boundary fault. The only way we are able to reenter the wellhead on the seafloor, which will allow us to install the observatory into the hole after drilling across the fault, is by … Read entire article »

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Field Update: Return to the Japan Trench

[Editor's Note: Patrick Fulton is a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics. He was part of an expedition last spring aboard a deep sea drilling ship to study the fault near Japan that unleashed one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history in 2011. That expedition ran into technical difficulties and so now the team has returned to finish the job. For the next few days, Fulton will be sending updates from the ship on the progress of the follow-up expedition. This is his first installment.] Greetings from the scientific deep sea drilling vessel Chikyu and the second part of the Japan Trench Fast Drilling Project: JFAST2 – IODP Expedition 343T. The focus of the JFAST project has been to quickly drill into and study … Read entire article »

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Slumbering Greek Volcano Stirs

Over the past year, Greeks have become accustomed to the feeling of the Earth shifting beneath their feet. Now, it’s not just the economy that’s making them uneasy. Measurements from GPS instruments indicate the ground near the mouth of the island volcano Santorini has deformed by about 2.5 inches since January 2011. In that time, the magma chamber has been growing. The island is what remains of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history 3,600 years ago. It destroyed Minoan settlements and may have inspired the legend of the lost city of Atlantis. According to a post on LiveScience.com by reporter Stephanie Pappas: If a Santorini eruption did occur, [Andrew] Newman said, it would be nothing like the Minoan eruption of 1650 B.C. that birthed the myth of Atlantis. That eruption … Read entire article »

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