The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Slow earthquakes may be predictable

Slow earthquakes can possibly be predicted. Researchers at the University of Bern have discovered patterns in the seemingly random time series of so-called slow slip events, a harmless type of earthquake.

This could also help predict dangerous earthquakes in the future, said Sandro Truttmann from the University of Bern on Tuesday when asked by the Keystone-SDA news agency. However, a lot of research is still needed before then.

Slow slip events are a type of earthquake in slow motion. In contrast to a typical earthquake, which takes place in seconds to minutes, the tectonic plates move over days or weeks during a slow slip event. "You don't feel these slow earthquakes," explained Truttmann.

However, according to the researcher, they probably have an influence on larger earthquakes. "The link is not yet fully understood. However, there are indications that slow earthquakes can sometimes trigger fast ones," said Truttmann.

According to Truttmann, there are currently no such slow earthquakes in Switzerland. For their study, which was published in the March issue of the journal "Geophysical Research Letters", the researchers looked at slow slip events in New Zealand.

"The holy grail of seismology"

Using chaos theory, a field of mathematics and physics, the researchers have now discovered patterns in a data series with GPS data from slow slip events. These indicate that such slow earthquakes could be predictable. However, only a short time before they occur.

According to Trautmann, predictions of chaotic systems can be illustrated with weather forecasts: If it is cloudy, you can predict with a fairly high degree of probability that it will still be cloudy in a second. But whether it will still be cloudy in a day or even a month is difficult or impossible to say.

Meteorologists use a physical model to predict the weather in the longer term. As they know the physical processes behind the weather, they can predict how it will develop over a short period of time.

The researchers are now also trying to do this with the slow slip events. And with real earthquakes? "That is the holy grail of seismology," said Truttmann. However, this is not yet an issue in the foreseeable future.

©Keystone/SDA

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