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Earthquakes Can Make Thrust Faults Open Violently and Snap Shut

Typography

It is a common trope in disaster movies: an earthquake strikes, causing the ground to rip open and swallow people and cars whole. The gaping earth might make for cinematic drama, but earthquake scientists have long held that it does not happen.

It is a common trope in disaster movies: an earthquake strikes, causing the ground to rip open and swallow people and cars whole. The gaping earth might make for cinematic drama, but earthquake scientists have long held that it does not happen.

Except, it can, according to new experimental research from Caltech.

The work, appearing in the journal Nature on May 1, shows how the earth can split open—and then quickly close back up—during earthquakes along thrust faults.

Thrust faults have been the site of some of the world's largest quakes, such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off the coast of Japan, which damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant. They occur in weak areas of the earth's crust where one slab of rock compresses against another, sliding up and over it during an earthquake.

Read more at California Institute of Technology

Image: The model shows how the hanging wall (right) of a thrust fault can twist away from the foot wall (left) during an earthquake. (Credit: Harsha Bhat/ENS)