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Apr 14, 2020

Timing of large earthquakes follows a ‘devil’s staircase’ pattern

Posted by in category: mathematics

At the regional level and worldwide, the occurrence of large shallow earthquakes appears to follow a mathematical pattern called the Devil’s Staircase, where clusters of earthquake events are separated by long but irregular intervals of seismic quiet.

The finding published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America differs from the pattern predicted by classical modeling that suggests earthquakes would occur periodically or quasi-periodically based on cycles of build-up and release of tectonic stress. In fact, say Yuxuan Chen of the University of Missouri, Columbia, and colleagues, periodic large earthquake sequences are relatively rare.

The researchers note that their results could have implications for seismic hazard assessment. For instance, they found that these large earthquake sequences (those with events magnitude 6.0 or greater) are “burstier” than expected, meaning that the clustering of earthquakes in time results in a higher probability of repeating seismic events soon after a large earthquake. The irregular gap between event bursts also makes it more difficult to predict an average recurrence time between big earthquakes.

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