New UAF research could help scientists develop an early warning system for earthquakes

There may be a way to predict some earthquakes.

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A University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher has discovered unusual precursor activity along the Minto Fault west of Fairbanks. UAF associate professor of geophysics Carl Tape says seismometers in the region recorded minor shaking before an earthquake.

”A low, building-up process that becomes an earthquake,” Tape said.

Tape says that type of warning signal has never been detected anywhere else in the world. Tape says the motion and another type of pre-quake movement, were picked up on two occasions prior to moderate earthquakes.

”Three-and-a-half and four. These events would be felt by lots of people in Fairbanks, and yet we have to remind ourselves in 1995, there was a magnitude six on this fault zone,” Tape said.

Tape cautions that the preliminary shaking doesn’t prelude many other earthquakes which occur along the Minto Fault.

”If people remember, in 2014 there was a magnitude five out toward Minto and some magnitude four-and-a-halves,” Tape said. “Those were just regular earthquakes. Nothing special happening before them.”

Tape says understanding the pre-cursor signal is valuable because the fault will most likely continue to generate similar activity in the future.

”That’s one thing exciting about seismology, and also a little scary, is that what happened in the past will very likely happen in the future,” Tape said.

Tape says precursor shaking is likely particular to the Minto Fault, which has unique characteristics. Tape’s research is being published this month in the journal Nature Geoscience. It’s funded by the National Science Foundation.