The cumulative stresses caused by historic earthquakes could provide some explanation as to why and where they occur, according to new research.
Scientists have previously struggled to identify patterns for earthquakes happening in hazardous areas around the world, with the suggestion that they appear to strike largely at random.
However, a study published in Nature Communications suggests that Coulomb pre-stress – the static stress present on a fault plane prior to rupture – can go some way to explaining both historical and modern series of earthquakes.
The study was led by Dr Zoë Mildon, Lecturer in Earth Sciences at the University of Plymouth, and features research conducted during her PhD at University College London (UCL). It also involved researchers from UCL, Birkbeck, University of London and Tohoku University in Japan, and was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
It combines centuries of written evidence of earthquake damage to towns and villages with state-of-the-art modelling, through which scientists demonstrate that positive stresses – a legacy of previous earthquakes in the region – are present on faults before the majority of earthquakes occur.