Purdue researchers studied Haitian fault; warned of potential for a large earthquake (w/ Video)

Jan 18, 2010 by Elizabeth Gardner

(PhysOrg.com) -- The potential for large earthquakes in Haiti and the Dominican Republic was forecast by a model of the northeastern Caribbean created by a team of experts.

Eric Calais, a professor of geophysics at Purdue University, led the research team that is the only group utilizing advanced measurement equipment along the Enriquillo and Septentrional faults in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A numerical model of the forces building up beneath the Earth's surface suggested the potential for a magnitude 7.2 in Haiti and a magnitude 7.5 earthquake in the Dominican Republic, Calais said. The results were published in a 2008 paper in Geophysical Journal International.

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"We can't predict when an earthquake will happen, but we can provide likely scenarios. We spoke with government officials to warn of the potential for large earthquakes in the country and to recommend ways to prepare," Calais said. "Unfortunately, our recommendations were not implemented in part because the earthquake hit too soon. Large earthquakes don't happen very often, and that is a good thing, but the bad thing is that we tend to forget about them. This is true for developing countries and rich countries alike. Haiti faces many difficulties and it is hard for this to be addressed when there are few resources and such urgent and pressing problems as hunger in the streets and a volatile political environment."

On Tuesday (Jan. 12) Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

The National Science Foundation-funded study used data recorded by 30 GPS antennas mounted in the ground around fault lines in the northeastern Caribbean to analyze the motion of the faults and surrounding area for five years.

The GPS equipment used can measure surface movement as small as the thickness of a fishing line.

Andrew Freed, a collaborator on the project and Purdue associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, said this movement represents deformation of the Earth's crust and the buildup of energy that could be released as an earthquake.

"When the Earth's crust is put under stress, it deforms," Freed said. "Like a rubber band, the crust can only take so much stress before it breaks, causing an earthquake."

The Enriquillo fault is part of the boundary between two tectonic plates - the Caribbean Plate and the North American Plate - slowly rubbing against each other as they move in opposite directions. The team determined that the tectonic plates were moving apart at a rate of 2 centimeters per year and putting tremendous strain on the fault, he said.

"These movements happen slowly, and the strain accumulates over hundreds of years," Freed said. "If the stored energy is released in a single event, as happened in Haiti, it can have a tremendous and devastating impact."

The team used the data and the historical record to create a model of strain accumulation for the area. The model allowed the researchers to evaluate the potential for, and possible magnitude of, present-day earthquakes in the area, he said.

Calais is now assembling a team to go to the earthquake site to measure the aftershocks and postseismic response of the area surrounding the fault.

"There will likely be aftershocks for a number of weeks that will provide a great deal of information, and surface displacements following the earthquake tell us a lot about the mechanical properties of the Earth's crust, which help us to better understand seismic potential," Calais said. "Hopefully we can transfer this experience and knowledge to faults in other areas of the world."

Calais, who last visited Haiti a year and half ago, said the level of destruction in the city was not surprising because of poor construction and development on unstable, steep slopes.

"The hotel where I regularly stayed collapsed and there is nothing left," he said. "I'm extremely worried about the people. I've tried to reach friends and colleagues there and am eager to hear from them and learn that they are safe.

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User comments : 4

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delano
not rated yet Jan 20, 2010
Movement across fault- measure movement across Caymen Trench/Trough/Bartlett Deep, and do the same [fault movement] reading across the Porto Rician trench. "None are so blind as those that will not see".
These Trenches are faults!
Check the movement of the Chandler Wobble. I Have ,and the Chief Scientist of the Smithsonion confirmed the mid -point of the 14 month "wobbles" at 4+ inches per year OVER THE LAST 100 YEARS! I have his confirmmation letter dated 1976.
In 22 million years Haiti will be due to the earths crust sliding over the mantle located at the Latitude of Hopewell Jct.,NY 12533, where I live.
I have 34 years of research, use it.
delano
not rated yet Jan 20, 2010
These Trenches are completed structures!
They were gaughed out by massive forces moving on the surface. Yes on the surface. The 4 billion year cryogenic period started to change when the ice cap in the Pacific Hollow started to move. Albert Einstein's physics tells us that a asametric ice cap will in time force the underlying crust tomove toward the Equator.
The Correllous Effect [spelled wrong] you see it in the "footprint" of the massive continental size ice floes as it moved ahead of the Equator and there are 40,000 miles of them- The ocean ridges!
The Russian M. Milankovich spotted the 100,000 year small Glaciers coming and going, but never could locate in Earth Geology the confluence of events that leads to the massive ellipitical earth orbit every413,000 YEARS!
It took Lansat readings of the ocean floor to see them. They are the Transform Faults across the Mid-Ocean ridge mountains.
call Me. 845-223-3687
delano
not rated yet Jan 20, 2010
Send E-mail. I will attach [free] my $56- book "The Origin of Mountains", as an attachment.
I know Mendal had all the answers and after he was dead 20 years someone found his work. Da Vinci was another that published NOTHING, and his notes must have been 2 feet high and disapearing every day leaving humanity 200 years behind the developement curve.
sunnyday1@optonline.net
delano
not rated yet Jan 20, 2010
Brevity is the soul of wit / or you have nothing to say. How do you "Twitter" the working of the geological structure of the Planet Earth? How do you "get your arms around" comprehend the evolution of Planet Earth-by being brief?
I doubt it. The researches are micro managing earthquake probabllity and prediction. Think outside the box- The Trench is the bigest fault on Planet earth. It the trench cuts the lithosphere by 25,000 feet! It Moves, many times in the same direction , but at different rates of speed. Java Sunda trench the west side moves faster then the East side, and the "strss" builds. Not only does the earthquake cause the Trench wall to collapse and cause the mega-tsunami but the land rises and the raised island "twist in the wind" not making any sense on the GPS instruments.
To be continued.
sunnyday1@optonline.net