Big quakes topple traditional views of fault behavior

If rules are made to be broken, then perhaps conventional wisdom is made to be overturned. The spate of large earthquakes in recent years — the magnitude and location of which have defied scientific expectations in several cases — has provided ample support for these maxims, at least within earth science. For all the confusion, though, data emerging from these events are reshaping and improving our understanding of how faults operate.

14 Apr 2013

Setting sail on unknown seas: The past, present and future of species rafting

The 2011 Japanese tsunami set adrift tons of debris, some of it carrying live plants and animals that landed in North America more than a year later. It isn’t the first time species have traveled the globe on ersatz rafts, and it won’t be the last. But it is concerning.

24 Feb 2013

Superquakes, supercycles, and global earthquake clustering: Recent research and recent quakes reveal surprises in major fault systems

A number of recent big earthquakes around the world have humbled many earthquake researchers. The March 2011 magnitude-9 superquake off Tohoku, Japan, and the December 2004 magnitude-9-plus temblor off Sumatra were both far larger than what scientists expected those fault systems to produce. Based on these quakes, and on recent research that contradicts long-held paradigms, it is becoming clear that the types and sizes of large earthquakes that a given fault system is capable of producing remain poorly known for most major fault systems.

07 Jan 2013

Voices: Judged unfairly in L'Aquila - roles and responsibilities should have been considered

Earlier this week, an Italian judge summarily convicted seven participants in a meeting of the Italian Serious Risks Commission who evaluated the hazard posed by the L’Aquila earthquake swarm before the magnitude-6.3 earthquake on April 6, 2009, for the same offense and to the same penalty: six years in prison. Much has been written about this court decision, but the very different roles played by the seven defendants and their different expertise have not been discussed. Is there no difference among the roles of the “L’Aquila Seven” in the communication disaster?

26 Oct 2012

Blame it on the rain: The proposed links between severe storms and earthquakes


The U.S. Geological Survey’s website states it in no uncertain terms: “There is no such thing as ‘earthquake weather.’” Not too surprising, right? After all, how could the seemingly insignificant stresses imposed on the planet’s surface by mere weather instigate seismic shaking far underfoot?  Earthquakes and heavy rainstorms do occasionally produce comparable results on the planet’s surface, devastating landscapes and impacting humans, but it’s hard to imagine any more of a connection between such disparate phenomena. Yet, from at least the time of Aristotle, some people have professed links between atmospheric conditions and seismic shaking. And as the ability to record Earth’s rumblings has continued to improve, efforts to demonstrate such links scientifically have persisted into the present century.

23 Oct 2012

Hazardous Living: Italian seismologists tragically convicted of manslaughter

Today, six seismologists and one government official were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. The seismologists and official had been on trial for not adequately warning the public about the danger of a potential earthquake prior to the L'Aquila earthquake in April 2009 that killed 309 people.

22 Oct 2012

Risky business: Modeling catastrophes

Natural hazards — earthquakes, tropical cyclones and thunderstorms, for example — occur with considerable frequency around the world. Fortunately, most events are either not intense enough or too remote to cause damage. But the probability that a given natural hazard could become a natural disaster is higher today than at any previous point in history.

30 Sep 2012

Seismic citizens: Volunteers host home-based seismometers to help assess earthquake threat

A network of volunteer hosts and home-based seismometers around Washington’s Puget Sound region report earthquake data to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) through the volunteer-powered NetQuakes program. Driven by a desire to to help the area better prepare for future large earthquakes, to be part of a group effort, and by an abiding (though not necessarily professional) interest in science and technology, the members of this unusual family are part of a growing movement in earthquake research and monitoring that is making use of the explicit support of citizen scientists.

27 Aug 2012

Behind the scenes with NetQuakes' Doug Gibbons

Doug Gibbons, a research assistant in the University of Washington’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences and a NetQuakes technician, is one of several people involved in managing and maintaining the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network’s (PNSN) portion of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) NetQuakes program. Having installed many of PNSN’s NetQuakes seismometers, he is a point man for outreach and interaction with current and prospective volunteers.

27 Aug 2012

On the web: Shake, rattle and roll: What does an earthquake sound like?

The sounds we associate with earthquakes tend to be those induced aboveground. Low-pitched rumbles, rattling windows and car alarms might be heard during small temblors, while more terrifying sounds like the crumbling of concrete and the cacophony of people trying to reach safety sometimes accompany large earthquakes. But what does an earthquake itself sound like, as rock grinds against rock in a rupturing fault and large amounts of energy are released? Thanks to some recent efforts, we may be starting to get an idea.

08 Aug 2012