Study: Ozone from rock fracture could serve as earthquake early warning

Nov 17, 2011

Researchers the world over are seeking reliable ways to predict earthquakes, focusing on identifying seismic precursors that, if detected early enough, could serve as early warnings.

New research, published this week in the journal , suggests that emitted from fracturing rocks could serve as an indicator of impending earthquakes. Ozone is a , a of electrical discharges into the air from several sources, such as from , or, according to the new research, from rocks breaking under pressure.

Scientists in the lab of Raúl A. Baragiola, a professor of engineering physics in the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science set up experiments to measure ozone produced by crushing or drilling into different igneous and metamorphic rocks, including granite, basalt, gneiss, rhyolite and quartz. Different rocks produced different amounts of ozone, with rhyolite producing the strongest ozone emission.

Some time prior to an earthquake, pressures begin to build in underground faults. These pressures fracture rocks, and presumably, would produce detectable ozone.

To distinguish whether the ozone was coming from the rocks or from reactions in the atmosphere, the researchers conducted experiments in pure oxygen, nitrogen, helium and carbon dioxide. They found that ozone was produced by fracturing rocks only in conditions containing oxygen atoms, such as air, carbon dioxide and pure oxygen molecules, indicating that it came from reactions in the gas. This suggests that fractures may be detectable by measuring ozone.

Baragiola began the study by wondering if animals, which seem – at least anecdotally – to be capable of anticipating earthquakes, may be sensitive to changing levels of ozone, and therefore able to react in advance to an . It occurred to him that if fracturing rocks create ozone, then ozone detectors might be used as warning devices in the same way that animal behavioral changes might be indicators of seismic activity.

He said the research has several implications.

"If future research shows a positive correlation between ground-level ozone near geological faults and earthquakes, an array of interconnected ozone detectors could monitor anomalous patterns when rock fracture induces the release of ozone from underground and surface cracks," he said.

"Such an array, located away from areas with high levels of ground ozone, could be useful for giving early warning to earthquakes."

He added that detection of an increase of ground ozone might also be useful in anticipating disasters in tunnel excavation, landslides and underground mines.

Explore further: Neutron tomography technique reveals phase fractions of crystalline materials in 3-dimensions

Related Stories

Climate change increases the risk of ozone damage to plants

Jun 30, 2011

Ground-level ozone is an air pollutant that harms humans and plants. Both climate and weather play a major role in ozone damage to plants. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have now shown that climate change ...

Venus has an ozone layer too: probe finds

Oct 06, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA's Venus Express spacecraft has discovered an ozone layer high in the atmosphere of Venus. Comparing its properties with those of the equivalent layers on Earth and Mars will help astronomers ...

EPA proposes new ozone standards

Jun 21, 2007

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal Thursday to strengthen the nation's air quality standard for ground-level ozone.

Recommended for you

50-foot-wide Muon g-2 electromagnet installed at Fermilab

11 hours ago

One year ago, the 50-foot-wide Muon g-2 electromagnet arrived at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois after traveling 3,200 miles over land and sea from Long Island, ...

Spin-based electronics: New material successfully tested

Jul 30, 2014

Spintronics is an emerging field of electronics, where devices work by manipulating the spin of electrons rather than the current generated by their motion. This field can offer significant advantages to computer technology. ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Graeme
not rated yet Nov 20, 2011
This may explain the smell of smashed igneous rock as being due to ozone. You could expect some nitrogen oxides to form too if ozone is around.