|Illustration of the elastic rebound part of volcanic arc|
subsidence after a megathrust earthquake
In the case of the Tohoku earthquake, Takada and Fukushima documented 5-15 cm of subsidence at a distance of 150-200 km from the rupture earthquake, but no volcanic eruptions. They suggest that subsidence is caused by sinking of magma reservoirs and their warm host rocks through the colder surrounding crust. Prichard and colleagues noted that two earthquakes (1906, 1960) were followed by eruptions in the Andes within a year, but that no eruptions have been clearly associated with the 2010 earthquake. They were, however, able to document the 15 cm of subsidence, and suggest that hydrothermal fluids were released from hydrothermal systems surrounding the volcanoes in Chile during the 2010 quake, and that the escape of these fluids caused the volcanic areas to deflate.
A second example of a proposed connection between earthquakes and geologic activity is more controversial: the Lusi mud volcano eruption. In 2006, mud erupted through and around a drill hole, flooding towns and displacing thousands of people. Paul Davis summarizes a paper by Lupi et al. that proposes that the 2006 Lusi mud eruption in Indonesia (still continuing) was triggered by a M6.3 earthquake two days prior to the eruption and 275 km away. Lupi et al. argue that strains, which are unarguably small at such a distance in homogeneous media, were amplified by a downward concave layer of shale that acted as a parabolic reflector. Their simulations suggest that the stresses could have been about 100 kPa, five times higher than original estimates of 21 kPa. Such pressures, the assert, could have liquified the mud that resides at depth, resulting in the eruption of mud through the drill hole. This conclusion remains controversial (see discussion by R.J. Davies, et al., Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 272, 627-638, 2008).
For a third example, Fischer et al. examine subduction zone earthquakes as triggers of submarine hydrocarbon seepage. Offshore of Pakistan, the Arabian Plate subducts beneath the Eurasian plate. This is a region of intense seismicity, in particular a major earthquake (M8.1) occurred there in 1945. It occurred in an area where gas hydrates (methane clathrates) are present, and leakage of hydrocarbon gas is known to occur here. Methane and sulfates both occur in the ocean with sulfate being stable above about 5 mbsf, and methane at greater depths. The concentration of both goes to nearly zero at a depth known as the sulfate-methane transition (SMT). In a complicated chemical reaction, sulphate is consumed through anaerobic oxidation of methane (CH4 + SO24 ! HCO3 + HS + H2O). Barium, being present in sea water, is precipitated at the SMT in so-called "barite fronts" and the abundance of barite can be used to reconstruct changes in upward methane flux. The authors calculated that it would take approximately 38-91 years to produce the observed barite enrichments. This leads them to conclude that the barite production could have been initiated by the 1945 earthquake and an accompanying increase in methane flux due to release from the hydrates. If confirmed, submarine gas release triggered by earthquakes needs to be added to the list of processes that can add methane to the hydrosphere, and possibly to the atmosphere, in the carbon budget.
References: Takada, Y., and Fukushima, Y., Nature Geoscience, 6, 637-641, 2013.
Pritchard, M.E., Jay, J.A., Aron, F., Henderson, S.T., and Lara, L.E., Subsidence at southern Andes volcanoes induced by the 2010 Maule, Chile earthquake, Nature Geoscience, 6, 632-626, 2013.
Lupi, M., Saenger, E.H., Fuchs, F., and Miller, S.A., Lusi mud eruption triggered by geometric focusing of seismic waves, Nature Geoscience, 6, 642-646, 2013.
Fischer, D., et al., Subduction zone earthquake as potential trigger of submarine hydrocarbon seepage, Nature Geoscience, 6, 647-651, 2013.