WASHINGTON (TIP): Earthquakes can change elastic properties of the Earth’s crust up to 6,000 kilometres away, altering its ability to withstand stresses for up to a few weeks, a new study has found.
The research demonstrates that the Earth is a dynamic and interconnected system, where one large earthquake can create a cascading sequence of events thousands of kilometres away, researchers said.
“Earthquakes can fundamentally change the elastic properties of the Earth’s crust in regions up to 6,000 kilometres away, altering its ability to withstand stresses for a period of up to a few weeks,” said Kevin Chao, a postdoc in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and a member of a research team led by Andrew Delorey at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
When a surface wave from an earthquake some way off passes through another fault region, it changes the balance between the frictional properties that keep the surfaces locked together, the elasticity that allows the crust to withstand strain, and the stress state that can cause it to fail, Chao said.
“When surface waves pass through, all of these properties rearrange and change. If a fault with high stress is ready to fail, it will accumulate more stresses in the fault, meaning an earthquake could occur at any time,” Chao said.