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Scientists confirm 'supershear' earthquakes

Posted on Monday, 10 June, 2013 | Comment icon 7 comments | News tip by: Still Waters

Image credit: CC 3.0 USDOI

Laboratory experiments have confirmed the existence of an unusual and lethal type of earthquake.

Supershear earthquakes are rare events in which the resulting tremors far exceed what would be expected for the given magnitude. Scientists believe this can happen when the rupturing fault breaks more quickly than the seismic waves can travel, producing a seismic mach cone that shoots out the end of the rupture zone, resulting in excessive shaking.

Now for the first time scientists have been able to demonstrate that supershear earthquakes can and do happen using experiments in a laboratory. To do this, they used acoustic sensors to analyze 200 'micro-earthquakes' in a controlled environment to emulate the conditions. "It's like the [seismic] waves are propagating along and all of a sudden it steps on the accelerator," said seismologist Eric Dunham.

"The inner workings of bizarre and potentially dangerous earthquakes that break the seismic sound barrier creating a sonic boom have been confirmed in laboratory experiments."

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Hilander on 9 June, 2013, 19:24
Wonder if that is what I was hearing one night right before the ground started shaking.
Comment icon #2 Posted by RingFenceTheCity on 10 June, 2013, 11:17
The mystery booms worldwide are another contender.
Comment icon #3 Posted by paperdyer on 10 June, 2013, 15:10
I wonder if these supershear quakes caused the continental drift to start.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Jessem on 10 June, 2013, 15:27
Does anyone not remember "Pangea"? Think of earth like a huge grandfather clock. If you ever get a chance, look inside one. The cogs, the springs, the batteries or power system all work together. Sometimes there are just parts we don't know how they work, but now it seems were getting a better understanding. Maybe this clock is about to strike midnight...
Comment icon #5 Posted by Andami on 10 June, 2013, 18:45
It's the opposite. Without plate tectonics, earthquakes couldn't exist.
Comment icon #6 Posted by RingFenceTheCity on 11 June, 2013, 11:36
But the painfully slow tectonic plate movement envisioned from Pangea *wouldn't* be enough to start mountain building. A child could see that the rate of erosion would degrade any uplift at this pace of events. That's why dark matter comets are an obvious contender which can deliver much more energy and go straight through the crust to the inner core. It's this type of mega-energy which is required for mountain building imv.
Comment icon #7 Posted by -M7 on 9 July, 2013, 4:56
Well thats just another "cataclysm" on the list.

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