Rock Permeability Key to Understanding Slow-Moving Earthquakes, Researchers Find

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Understanding rock permeability could revolutionize earthquake prediction, potentially preventing infrastructure damage and enhancing energy security. (Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash)

by | May 14, 2024

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Understanding the Influence of Rock Permeability

Recent research by the Jackson School of Geosciences has unveiled rock permeability as a critical factor in understanding slow-moving earthquakes. Unlike sudden, destructive seismic events, slow slip events release tectonic forces gradually over weeks or months, allowing researchers to study seismic cycles without catastrophic consequences. This insight is pivotal for earthquake prediction and holds significant implications for the design and resilience of infrastructure critical to sustainable development and energy security.

Investigating the Hikurangi Margin

The research team focused on the Hikurangi Margin, a subduction zone in New Zealand known for its annual slow slip events. Over multiple expeditions in 2019 and 2022, scientists collected rock samples from various outcrops near the margin. These samples underwent rigorous University of Texas laboratory testing to determine their permeability and elastic properties. The findings revealed a clear correlation between the rocks’ permeability levels and the regular occurrence of slow slip events at this subduction zone.

Mechanism of Slow Slip Events

This phenomenon is governed mainly by an impermeable rock layer acting as a cap, trapping fluids within the pores of underlying rock layers. As fluid pressure builds, it reaches a threshold that triggers a slow slip event, temporarily increasing rock permeability and allowing trapped fluids to escape. After the event, the rocks gradually heal, and the cycle repeats.

Enhancing Resilience and Preparedness

Understanding the role of rock permeability in slow-moving earthquakes is crucial for enhancing predictive models. By incorporating this knowledge into seismic models, scientists aim to improve earthquake prediction accuracy. This advancement is essential for the development of resilient infrastructure, especially in regions prone to seismic activity. For businesses and industries, such predictive capabilities can inform the construction and maintenance of energy infrastructure, ensuring it can withstand and recover from seismic events.

Implications for Energy Infrastructure and ESG Goals

The implications of this research extend to energy security and sustainability. Energy infrastructure, such as power lines, pipelines, and renewable energy installations, must be designed to endure and quickly recover from seismic disruptions. Enhanced earthquake prediction models contribute to better risk management strategies, aligning with ESG goals by minimizing environmental impact and ensuring the safety and reliability of energy supply chains.

Lead author Nicola Tisato and his team believe that their research will help refine predictive models, paving the way toward more accurate earthquake forecasting. This progress is vital for vulnerable regions, offering a roadmap to safer, more sustainable development. By meticulously analyzing rock samples from the Hikurangi Margin, the team is decoding the geological puzzle of earthquake prediction, contributing to a future where we can better anticipate and mitigate the risks associated with seismic activity.

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