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Mystery tremors bring new twist to quake prediction

Breaking Earth News

March 15, 2007

Mysterious tremors deep in the Earth's crust could provide a way to predict future catastrophic earthquakes, according to scientists. Weak "non-volcanic tremors", first discovered five years ago near Shikoku in Japan, pose no dangers in themselves and have previously been dismissed as insignificant by many scientists. But a new study shows that they are related to low-frequency earthquakes (LFEs), slow-moving seismic activity deep underground which can potentially build up enough force over time to cause a major earthquake at the surface. Both non-volcanic tremor and LFEs are found mainly in subduction zones, where violent events happen once every 100 to 600 years. Scientists think that they are often preceded by LFEs which can last days, months or years without being felt at the surface. "Some people believe that LFEs and tremor are separate phenomena, but what we've shown in this paper is that they are actually the same thing. Tremor is simply a swarm of low-frequency earthquakes, but rather than happening quickly and impulsively like ordinary earthquakes, tremor shakes the Earth for hours, days or even weeks at a time." Non-volcanic tremors have been found in Japan, under California's San Andreas Fault, and in the Cascadia subduction zone, which stretches from northern California to British Columbia.

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