The November 2017 Mw 5.5 Pohang earthquake: A possible case of induced seismicity in South Korea

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Science  01 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 1003-1006
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat2010

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Triggering quakes in a geothermal space

Enhanced geothermal systems (EGSs) provide a potentially clean and abundant energy source. However, two magnitude-5 earthquakes recently occurred in South Korea during EGS site development. Grigoli et al. and Kim et al. present seismic and geophysical evidence that may implicate the second of these earthquakes, which occurred in Pohang, as an induced event. The combination of data from a local seismometer network, well logs, satellite observations, teleseismic waveform analysis, and stress modeling leads to the assessment that the earthquake was probably or almost certainly anthropogenically induced. The possibility remains that the earthquake occurred coincidentally at the EGS site location, but the aftershock distribution and other lines of evidence are concerning for future development of this geothermal resource.

Science, this issue p. 1003, p. 1007


The moment magnitude (Mw) 5.5 earthquake that struck South Korea in November 2017 was one of the largest and most damaging events in that country over the past century. Its proximity to an enhanced geothermal system site, where high-pressure hydraulic injection had been performed during the previous 2 years, raises the possibility that this earthquake was anthropogenic. We have combined seismological and geodetic analyses to characterize the mainshock and its largest aftershocks, constrain the geometry of this seismic sequence, and shed light on its causal factors. According to our analysis, it seems plausible that the occurrence of this earthquake was influenced by the aforementioned industrial activities. Finally, we found that the earthquake transferred static stress to larger nearby faults, potentially increasing the seismic hazard in the area.

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