Deep Earthquakes in Real Slabs

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Science  29 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5441, pp. 909-910
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5441.909

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Deep earthquakes shouldn't happen, yet they do. At depths greater than about 50 kilometers, rock begins to flow rather than fracture, and fracture is the phenomenon associated with seismic activity. In their Perspective, Stein and Rubie discusses the highlights of a recent conference on subduction, the geological process whereby one lithospheric plate is pushed under another. Deep earthquakes can take place in subducting slabs owing to the complex phase transformations that occur as minerals are heated and put under pressure as they are pushed deeper. Conference participants debated current models of deep seismic activity and their limitations.