Observations and modeling of the elastogravity signals preceding direct seismic waves

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Science  01 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6367, pp. 1164-1168
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao0746

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Gravity gets into the earthquake game

Earthquakes generate large movements of mass, which slightly change the gravitational field. Unlike the elastic waves that propagate from the earthquake, the gravity perturbations travel at the speed of light. Vallée et al. have finally observed these gravity perturbations in seismometer records from the great Tohoku earthquake in Japan in 2011. The signal would have allowed an accurate magnitude estimation in minutes, rather than hours, for this catastrophic earthquake.

Science, this issue p. 1164


After an earthquake, the earliest deformation signals are not expected to be carried by the fastest (P) elastic waves but by the speed-of-light changes of the gravitational field. However, these perturbations are weak and, so far, their detection has not been accurate enough to fully understand their origins and to use them for a highly valuable rapid estimate of the earthquake magnitude. We show that gravity perturbations are particularly well observed with broadband seismometers at distances between 1000 and 2000 kilometers from the source of the 2011, moment magnitude 9.1, Tohoku earthquake. We can accurately model them by a new formalism, taking into account both the gravity changes and the gravity-induced motion. These prompt elastogravity signals open the window for minute time-scale magnitude determination for great earthquakes.

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