Huge Earthquake Could Open Up Cracks in the Earth and Swallow Everything in its Wake
Faults known as ‘thrust faults’ could one day tear massive holes in the Earth, the chilling study has shown.
In the past, thrust faults have been responsible for some of the most devastating earthquakes – including the 2011 quake off the coast of Japan.
The new research, carried out by experts from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and École normale supérieure (ENS) in Paris, discovered that fast ruptures beneath the surface and travel upwards quickly can cause one side of the fault to twist away, opening a hole in the Earth.
Once the hole has opened, it could quickly snap shut after consuming everything in its wake.
It was previously thought that the opening of a fault line was impossible, but by studying the Japanese quake, they found that one side of the fault slipped upwards – up to 50 metres upwards in some regions – which caused the catastrophic tsunami.
The experts behind the study say that the prediction that faults can twist away from each other should have been factored into previous research.
Ares Rosakis, Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering at Caltech, said: “This is actually built into most computer models of earthquakes right now.
“The models have been programmed in a way that dictates that the walls of the fault cannot separate from one another.
“The findings demonstrate the value of experimentation and observation.
“Computer models can only be as realistic as their built-in assumptions allow them to be.”
Hiroo Kanamori, a seismologist exploring the physics of earthquakes and a coauthor of the study published in Nature, said that the research could have huge implications for predicting future earthquakes and their consequences.
He said: “We seismologists have benefited a great deal from collaboration with Professor Rosakis’s group, because it is often very difficult to perform experiments to test our ideas in seismology.”