In DepthSeismology

New Zealand temblor points to threat of compound quakes

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Science  24 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6331, pp. 1250-1251
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6331.1250

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A reassuring rule of thumb about earthquakes is breaking down. For decades, seismologists had assumed that individual faults—as well as isolated segments of longer faults—rupture independently of one another. That limits the maximum size of the potential earthquake that a fault zone can generate. But the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck New Zealand just after midnight on 14 November 2016—among the largest in the islands' modern history—has reduced that thinking to rubble. According to a new study, published online this week in Science, the heavy shaking in the Kaikoura quake was amassed by ruptures on at least 12 different faults, in some cases so far apart that they were thought to be immune to each other's influence.