From: University of Tokyo
Published November 29, 2016 08:31 AM

Groundwater helium level could signal potential risk of earthquake

Researchers at the University of Tokyo and their collaborators have revealed a relationship between helium levels in groundwater and the amount of stress exerted on inner rock layers of the earth, found at locations near the epicenter of the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake. Scientists hope the finding will lead to the development of a monitoring system that catches stress changes that could foreshadow a big earthquake.

Several studies, including some on the massive earthquake in Kobe, Japan, in 1995, have indicated that changes to the chemical makeup of groundwater may occur prior to earthquakes. However, researchers still needed to accumulate evidence to link the occurrence of earthquakes to such chemical changes before establishing a strong correlation between the two.

A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo and their collaborators found that when stress exerted on the earth’s crust was high, the levels of a helium isotope, helium-4, released in the groundwater was also high at sites near the epicenter of the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake, a magnitude 7.3 quake in southwestern Japan, which caused 50 fatalities and serious damage.

Continue reading at University of Tokyo

Image: Sampling sites of deep groundwater in the Kumamoto region, and helium isotope variations (helium-3 and helium-4) 

Image courtesy: Yuji Sano

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