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Earthquakes May be a Lot Stronger than We Think

Published on October 17, 2011 by   ·   No Comments

By Angelina Tala

Geophysicists at Brown University detailed the phenomenon of flash heating, during an experiment parroting the speed of earthquakes.

“Flash heating is one of several different, possible mechanisms that might make faults weaker than we would normally expect them to be when they slide fast,” said Geophysicist, Terry Tullis of Brown University.

Both Tullis and David Goldsby of Brown University have shown through modeling experiments of earthquakes, that rock surfaces sliding past one another during an earthquake can create intense heat, but only at the pin points where their surfaces touch.

“Earthquakes might be a lot stronger than we think,” said Tullis.

Tullis explained that, fault surfaces only touch at scattered microscopic spots because they are not completely flat and the pin point spots that slide past one another, once contacted, are subjected to intense stress and extreme heating during earthquakes, which lowers their friction while the temperature of the rest of the fault remains unaffected.

“There’s a lot more stress on the few microscopic spots that are in contact, so it can get quite hot but if you slide slowly, although the friction would create a certain amount of heat, the temperature never gets really high,” said Tullis.

“If you slide really fast then the heat that’s generated with coming into contact doesn’t have time to escape,” he added.

The microscopic contact spots when sliding fast generate a lot of heat and because they are only in contact for a short time, the heat does not get a chance to defuse away, causing the temperature to rise so high that that melting can occur.

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