New Evidence For Regular Magnitude 8 Earthquakes On Alpin Fault
July 27, 2012

New Evidence For Regular Magnitude 8 Earthquakes On Alpin Fault

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The most dangerous fault line on the island of New Zealand is the Alpine Fault. It is approximately 80 miles northwest of the islands main city of Christchurch. Research published in the prestigious journal Science, co-authored by University of Nevada, Reno's Glenn Biasi and colleagues at GNS Science in New Zealand, shows that very large earthquakes have been occurring regularly on the Alpine Fault along the southwest coastline of New Zealand for at least 8,000 years.

The team developed evidence for 22 earthquakes at the Hokuri Creek site, with two additional from nearby, which led to the longest continuous earthquake record in the world for a major plate boundary fault. The team established that on average, the Alpine Fault causes earthquakes of around a magnitude 8 every 330 years. Previous data showed about 485 years.

Relative motion of Pacific and Australian plates across the Alpine Fault averages about an inch per year. This motion builds up, and then is released suddenly in large earthquakes. The 530-mile-long fault is among the longest, straightest and fastest moving plate boundary faults in the world. Since the most recent event in A.D. 1717 more than 23 feet of potential slip has accumulated in the 295 years.

Biasi and the GNS Science team led by Kelvin Berryman, used paleoseismology to expand the known seismic record from 1000 years ago to 8,000 years ago. They estimated earthquake dates by mixing radiocarbon dating leaves, marsh plants and small twigs with geologic and other field techniques.

"Our study sheds new light on the frequency and size of earthquakes on the Alpine Fault. Earthquakes have been relatively periodic, suggesting that this may be a more general property of simple plate boundary faults worldwide," Biasi, of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory said. "By comparison, large earthquakes on California's San Andreas Fault have been less regular in size and timing."

"Knowing the average rate of earthquakes is useful, but is only part of the seismic hazard equation," he said. "If they are random in time, then the hazard does not depend on how long it has been since the most recent event. Alpine Fault earthquakes are more regular in their timing, allowing us to use the time since the last earthquake to adjust the hazard estimate. We estimate the 50-year probability of a large Alpine fault earthquake to be about 27 percent."

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 2, 2010, located near Christchurch which is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, caused extensive damage to buildings but no deaths. On Feb. 22, 2011, a triggered aftershock measuring a magnitude 6.3, with one of the strongest ground motions ever recorded worldwide in an urban area, struck the city killing 185 people.