Sunday, May 5, 2013

Your Science Teacher Was Maybe Possibly Wrong

Among the science you likely got taught in school regarding earthquakes is that one is formed when parts of the earth's crust run up against each other and bend and bend until eventually they snap back to their original shape. The snapback is the earthquake. We've been operating under that theory since the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

Scientists at Cornell University would like to dispute that. A team led by Richard Allmendinger recently traveled to the Atacama Desert in Chile, where cracks left over from earthquakes are particularly well-preserved, and noticed permanent deformations. It turns out they're not the first to actually notice- the Polytechnic University of Catalonia detected permanent deformation in the 2011 earthquake in Japan, and the Boxing Day Earthquake off the coast of Indonesia was observed as such by Italy's Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia in 2005 as well- so while you personally may be slightly late to the party, that's fine, because it meant there was time for supporting evidence to come forward.

What this means is that, if that's in fact the way things shake out, the already-murky field of earthquake modeling is going to get a little murkier, as it would mean the models currently in place to try to predict earthquakes are all off and need to recalibrate to account for permanent deformation. But hey, it'll be more accurate afterwards.

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