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El terremoto duró 32 años y los científicos quieren saber cómo

Cuando un terremoto de 8,5 grados en la escala de Richter sacudió la isla indonesia de Sumatra en febrero de 1861, sacudió el suelo, rompió un muro de agua en las playas cercanas y mató a miles de personas.

Ahora, parece que el trágico evento no fue un incidente aislado: fue, de hecho, el final del terremoto más largo jamás registrado, que se deslizó por el interior de la Tierra durante 32 años. Conocido como un evento de deslizamiento lento, se sabe que este tipo de terremotos se propaga durante días, meses o años. Pero el evento recién descrito continuó Más del doble de duración Como poseedor del récord anterior, los académicos mencionados en Ciencias Naturales de la Tierra.

“No hubiera creído que tendríamos un evento lento durante tanto tiempo, pero lo descubrimos”, dice el autor del estudio. Emma Hill, Geodestis en Universidad Tecnológica de NanyangObservatorio de la Tierra en Singapur.

El descubrimiento de un terremoto tan lento promete ayudar a los científicos a comprender las formas sorprendentemente diversas en las que se mueve nuestro turbulento planeta, y el potencial letal de estos eventos silenciosos para causar terremotos más poderosos.

Los terremotos de movimiento lento, como sus primos de alta velocidad, liberan la energía acumulada por los cambios de las placas tectónicas. Pero en lugar de desencadenarse en una explosión de ruido de tierra, los terremotos lentos liberan presión lentamente con el tiempo, por lo que no son riesgos por sí mismos. Sin embargo, es probable que los cambios leves debajo de la superficie ejerzan presión sobre las áreas adyacentes a lo largo de la falla, lo que podría aumentar el riesgo de un terremoto más grande en las cercanías.

Otras regiones de Indonesia ya están mostrando motivos de preocupación. Dice que la isla sureña de Ingano se está “hundiendo muy rápidamente” Rishav Malik, Primer autor del nuevo estudio y Ph.D. Candidato en la Universidad Tecnológica de Nanyang en Singapur. Si bien advierte que los datos solo provienen de una ubicación, están insinuando que es posible que ya se esté produciendo un terremoto lento cerca de la isla.

“No es sólo un evento aislado en el siglo XIX”, dice Mallik. “Estamos viendo que esto sucede ahora”.

Las pistas están escritas en coral.

El nuevo estudio se basa en un escritor inesperado de los cambios tectónicos de la Tierra: los corales.

Algunos tipos de coral como dedos. Puritas, Crece y sube hasta que permanece justo debajo de la superficie del agua. Si el agua sube, el coral volverá a dispararse rápidamente. Si el agua cae, el coral expuesto al aire muere, mientras que la parte sumergida continúa creciendo hacia afuera. Debido a que estos corales se agrupan en capas, como árboles que crecen en anillos concéntricos, los científicos pueden usar sus esqueletos para mapear los cambios relativos en el nivel del agua a lo largo del tiempo.

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“Básicamente funcionan como mareógrafos naturales”, dice Hill.

Los cambios en el nivel del mar pueden provenir de factores impulsados ​​por el cambio climático, como el derretimiento de los glaciares, o de cambios en la elevación del paisaje. Frente a la costa occidental de Sumatra, tipos recientes de cambios han revelado una batalla subterránea entre placas tectónicas.

En esta región, la placa tectónica australiana Se sumerge bajo el plato de SundaPero está atrapado a lo largo de una región directamente debajo del arco de las islas indonesias. Cuando las placas chocan, la tabla baja tira del suelo encima de ellas. Esto dobla la superficie, lo que empuja el borde de la placa hacia el mar, pero hace que otras partes de la placa se eleven.

Si las tensiones aumentan tanto que un terremoto golpea el área, el suelo cambiará repentinamente, revirtiendo el impacto y enviando algunas áreas costeras hacia arriba. Solo tal transformación ocurrió todavía Terremoto de magnitud 8.7 Tomó el control de Sumatra en 2005.

“Cuando los arrecifes de coral se movieron en el terremoto, todo el ecosistema quedó completamente en su lugar”, dijo un coautor del estudio. Aaron Meltzner Libros en Blog sobre sus experiencias de campo en 2005 Mientras tenía un doctorado. Estudiante del Instituto de Tecnología de California. Los arrecifes de coral ramificados, los erizos de mar, las ostras, los cangrejos y “los ocasionales peces desafortunados” están todos muertos o moribundos, expuestos en tierra casi seca.

Meltzner, que ahora trabaja como geólogo en la Universidad Tecnológica de Nanyang en Singapur, ha regresado para estudiar los arrecifes de coral alrededor de Sumatra año tras año para descifrar los muchos registros que poseen. En un estudio de 2015, él y sus colegas Ella documentó el cambio repentino en el suelo. Condujo al gigantesco terremoto de 1861.

Antes de 1829, la tierra cerca de la isla Simolo se hundía entre 1 y 2 milímetros por año, según los datos de los arrecifes de coral. Pero luego la tasa saltó repentinamente, ya que la tierra se hundió a una tasa de 10 mm por año hasta que el terremoto de 1861 golpeó el área. El equipo inicialmente pensó que el cambio se debía a una región cambiante donde dos placas tectónicas se unen, pero no estaban seguros de la causa exacta.

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En 2016, Malik de la Universidad Tecnológica de Nanyang revisó los datos de los arrecifes de coral. Al modelar la física de la zona de subducción y el movimiento de los fluidos a lo largo de la falla, los investigadores encontraron que el cambio rápido fue causado por la liberación de la tensión acumulada: el inicio de un terremoto de movimiento lento.

Sabores de terremotos

Los terremotos lentos solo se han reconocido desde finales de la década de 1990, cuando se observaron inicialmente en el noroeste del Pacífico desde América del Norte y en la región de Nankai frente a las costas de Japón. La liberación de energía débil significa que causa ligeros cambios en la superficie, por lo que ni siquiera se ha detectado. Tecnología GPS mejorada Basta con dibujar cambios tan pequeños.

Sin embargo, cuantos más lugares buscaron los investigadores desde entonces, se detectaron terremotos más lentos, desde la costa de Nueva Zelanda hasta Costa Rica e incluso Alaska. “Vemos deslizamientos sísmicos en todas partes”, dice. Lucille Brohat, Geofísico de la Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) en París, Francia, y no formó parte del equipo de estudio.

Los Slow Earthquakes adquieren muchos sabores diferentes. En Cascadia y Nankai, los terremotos lentos ocurren con regularidad y desencadenan todos los terremotos. 14 meses más o menos En Cascadia y todo De tres a seis meses En Nankai. En ambos lugares, estos terremotos de larga duración también están asociados con una gran cantidad de pequeños terremotos conocidos como temblores.

Bruhat compara el proceso con alguien que camina por un piso de madera. “Te estás moviendo y la madera se agrieta a tu alrededor”, dice. “Todas las grietas serán idiotas”.

A lo largo de los años, los científicos también han descubierto que la duración de los terremotos lentos puede variar mucho. En Alaska, por ejemplo, los investigadores descubrieron un evento que duró al menos nueve años y se dieron cuenta de que estaban viendo un terremoto lento después de que la superficie rastrera se detuviera en 2004, dice Mallick. El evento recientemente descubierto cerca de Sumatra empuja los períodos potenciales de terremotos lentos más lejos que nunca.

Mucha gente dice que estos eventos de deslizamiento lento más grandes y prolongados son posibles Laura Wallace, Geofísico de la Universidad de Texas en Austin y GNS Science en Nueva Zelanda, que no formó parte del equipo de estudio. Pero el monitoreo constante de los movimientos de la Tierra cerca de las zonas de subducción solo ha ocurrido en las últimas dos décadas, lo que significa que “en realidad solo estamos viendo una pequeña instantánea en el tiempo”, dice.

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Están rastreando

Comprender estos eventos lentos es fundamental para comprender los riesgos potenciales que representan para desencadenar sacudidas más grandes. Los lentos deslizamientos fueron precedidos por muchos de los terremotos más fuertes jamás registrados, incluidos los catastróficos terremotos que azotaron Indonesia. Terremoto de magnitud 9.1, Sumantra – Addaman En 2004, Japón destruyó Terremoto de magnitud 9.1 en tohoku En 2011, Chile destruyó Terremoto de magnitud 8.2 En 2014.

Él dice: “Es un tema candente en este momento en el campo”. Noelle Bartlow, Geofísico especializado en terremotos lentos de la Universidad de Kansas y que no forma parte del equipo de estudio. Pero demostrar que los eventos de deslizamiento lento en realidad pueden provocar mayores temblores geológicos ha sido durante mucho tiempo un desafío. No todos los terremotos lentos desencadenan un temblor importante.

“La evidencia está creciendo un poco, pero todavía se limita a unos pocos estudios de caso”, dice.

Parte del problema es que atrapar un terremoto de larga duración durante el acto no es fácil. En el nuevo estudio, explica Bartlow, el terremoto prolongado se arrastró a lo largo de una parte poco profunda de la falla, que está bajo el agua, lejos del suelo. Pero las estaciones GPS convencionales han sido inútiles en el fondo del mar desde entonces. No traspasar las señales Demasiado lejos del agua. Pocos lugares en la Tierra tienen un registro natural de movimientos semejantes a los de los corales en Indonesia.

Pero son costosos, dice Bartlow. Planea buscar eventos similares de deslizamiento lento poco profundos frente a la costa del noroeste del Pacífico, utilizando instrumentos que usan fibras ópticas para medir el estrés superficial.

Aunque la observación a menudo se considera una de las “cosas menos atractivas” que pueden hacer los científicos, dice Hill, es imperativo comprender nuestro planeta en todas sus complejidades.

“Cuando pensamos que entendemos la tectónica, la Tierra nos lanzará otra sorpresa”, dice Hill. “Cuanto más recopilemos conjuntos de datos realmente extensos, más sorpresas como esta tendremos”.

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