Showing posts with label Earthquake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Earthquake. Show all posts

October 22, 2012

Scientists ] Water Extraction Caused Deadly Earthquake in Spain Last Year

Spain Man Made Quake

A police officer on May 12 last year inspects damage caused by an earthquake the previous day in Lorca, Spain. Picture: APSource: AP
MASSIVE extraction of groundwater helped unleash an earthquake in southeastern Spain last year that killed nine people, injured at least 100 and left thousands homeless, geologists has said.
The finding added a powerful piece of evidence to theories that some earthquakes were human-induced, they said.
Seismologists were surprised by the May 11, 2011 earthquake which happened 2km northeast of the city of Lorca.
The quake struck in the Eastern Betics Shear Zone, one of Spain's most seismically active regions, where there has been a large number of moderate-to-large temblors over the past 500 years.
But the May event was unusual because it was so devastating and yet so mild - only 5.1 magnitude - in terms of energy release.
Researchers led by Pablo Gonzalez of the University of Western Ontario in Canada probed the mystery.
Reporting in the journal Nature Geoscience, they found that the quake occurred at a very shallow depth, of just 3km, so the shockwave swiftly reached the surface with little to dampen it on the way.
The quake also happened on a complex but dormant fault that ripped open after water had been extensively pumped out of a neighbouring aquifer, causing a domino effect of subterranean stresses, they said.
Gonzalez' team first used ground-radar imaging by the European satellite Envisat to build a map of how terrain around Lorca changed before and after the quake.
The picture confirmed that the event had occurred on the so-called Alhama de Murcia fault, which slipped between 5cm and 15cm.
They then investigated the Alto Guadalentin Basin, an aquifer lying just 5km south of the fault, where they found widespread evidence of subterranean subsidence from water extraction.
Between 1960 and 2010, the level of groundwater from this aquifer fell by at least 250m, according to records from local wells.
A computer model put together by the team suggests what happens: lowering of the water table caused part of the crust, located next to the Alhama de Murcia fault, to break.
This led to an "elastic rebound" of the crust that in turn cranked up horizontal pressure on the fault, bringing it that much closer to rupture.
The investigation adds to anecdotal evidence that human activities, ranging from exploration for shale gas, quarrying and even water reservoirs, can cause quakes.
"Our results imply that anthropogenic [man-made] activities could influence how and when earthquakes occur," the study said.
In a commentary, Jean-Philippe Avouac, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology said water extraction at Lorca probably accelerated a natural process of stress accumulation rather than unleashed the earthquake by itself.
Even so, "the consequences are far-reaching", Professor Avouac said.
He pointed to carbon storage, a still-experimental technique in which carbon dioxide from a fossil-fuel power station is pumped into underground caverns rather than released to the atmosphere, where it would add to global warming.
"For now, we should remain cautious of human-induced stress perturbations, in particular those related to carbon dioxide sequestration projects that might affect very large volumes of crust," Professor Avouac said.
"We know how to start earthquakes, but we are still far from being able to keep them under control."

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