Research CommentariesGEOSCIENCE

Sliding Skis and Slipping Faults

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Science  06 Feb 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5352, pp. 824-825
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5352.824

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The mechanisms of earthquakes are a matter of debate, with different models capable of explaining different aspects of the process. In his research commentary, Wiens discusses work reported in the same issue by Kanamori et al. in which the authors propose that deep earthquakes occur through melting. As the fault ruptures, a thin layer of molten rock lubricates the sliding surfaces, much as a thin layer of water lubricates ski surfaces on snow. Wiens suggests that the model is best suited to explaining the deepest quakes, including the 1994 Bolivia event.