Rupture in the Laboratory

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Science  19 Mar 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5665, pp. 1788-1789
DOI: 10.1126/science.1095765

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Earthquakes are triggered when faults in seismically active layers of the Earth rupture. To understand in terms of the underlying physics how these rupture events grow and propagate is currently the subject of laboratory study. In his Perspective, Ohnaka discusses work reported in the same issue by Xia et al. on experimental observations of fracture of inhomogeneous surfaces. These model earthquakes should provide better understanding of the mechanisms that lead to large seismic events in the real world.