People's earthquake reports influenced more by locomotion than location

In this era of high-tech seismic networks and GPS, scientists still rely on low-tech earthquake intensity scales, generated from public surveys like the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Did You Feel It? questionnaire, to characterize ground shaking in places with low instrument coverage. But how accurate are people’s perceptions of shaking? 

15 Jul 2014

Solar wind gives lightning a boost

Strong gusts of solar wind appear to trigger lightning on Earth, according to a new study. Researchers studying patterns of lightning strikes in and around the U.K. over several years found a substantial uptick in lightning after high-speed streams of solar wind reached Earth. Given the regular timing of the streams’ arrivals and our ability to detect them with satellites, the findings could eventually help scientists better forecast lightning activity, potentially mitigating the hazard it poses to humans.

10 Jul 2014

San Andreas Fault shook Bay Area three times in a century

During the April 18, 1906, magnitude-7.9 earthquake near San Francisco, Calif., 470 kilometers of the San Andreas Fault ruptured between San Juan Bautista, south of San Francisco, and Point Arena, north of the city.

27 Jun 2014

Magma mobilizes quickly beneath Mount Hood

In a recent study in Nature, researchers found that magma beneath Oregon’s Mount Hood spends minimal time in an eruptible state. Instead, magma remobilization and eruption occur within a short time frame. What this means for volcanic hazards in the Pacific Northwest has yet to be determined. 

10 Jun 2014

Longmenshan fault zone in the spotlight after two major quakes in five years

In May 2008, a magnitude-7.9 earthquake struck near Wenchuan, China, killing more than 80,000 people in the country’s biggest quake since 1950. Then, in April 2013, the magnitude-6.6 Lushan earthquake hit just 90 kilometers to the south — also within China’s Longmenshan Fault Zone, which separates the Tibetan Plateau to the west from the Sichuan Basin to the east — and caused another 200 deaths. Now, scientists have found that a roughly 60-kilometer segment of the fault zone between the epicenters of the two big temblors could be the next to rupture, although no one knows when or how big it might be.

05 Jun 2014

Lessons from the Russian meteor burst

Scientists can thank the high motor vehicle accident rate in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk for providing the most stunning videos ever recorded of a meteor burst. Because of the many traffic accidents in that city, dashboard cameras abound, constantly recording everything in front of a car — the road, other vehicles, pedestrians, and, incidentally, the sky.

At about 9:20 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2013, many of those cameras recorded the explosion of a large meteor 23 kilometers above the city. As was widely reported at the time, the air blast shattered windows, and meteorite fragments rained down in and around Chelyabinsk, causing damage to some 7,000 buildings and sending about 1,600 people to hospitals. Although no one was killed, it marks “the first ever asteroid impact disaster in human history,” according to Clark R. Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Colo., who presented research on the event at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San, Francisco, Calif., last December.

18 May 2014

Comment: The Oso landslide shows need for insurance and better planning

The deadly landslide that struck near Oso, Wash., in March killed more than 40 people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, most of which was not covered by insurance. The landslide was not a surprise to geologists. Could this disaster have been prevented — or can future disasters be prevented?

06 May 2014

Faking quakes at full scale: Giant shake tables simulate earthquakes to make buildings safer

At a few select facilites around the world, engineers are able to shake full-size buildings to learn how to make them safer during earthquakes. Take a look at the massive shake tables that make it possible.

23 Apr 2014

Resolving a misplaced source of volcanism in the Galapagos

Geological models have long suggested the mantle plume that built the Galápagos islands lies below Fernandina Island. Using a novel combination of seismic techniques, however, scientists have found a mantle anomaly that appears to be the Galápagos plume located 150 kilometers southeast of Fernandina Island. The new findings better explain the ongoing volcanic activity and also shed light on interactions between the mantle and crust, researchers say.

07 Apr 2014

Volcanic lightning generated in a bottle

Scientists know very little about how lightning is generated by volcanic eruptions, in large part because of the danger and difficulty in monitoring the phenomenon in the field. But a new apparatus for generating volcanic lightning in the lab may shed light on the subject.

06 Apr 2014