Researchers publish findings after studying aftermath of 2010 earthquake in Chile
Most severe earthquakes take place
beneath the seafloor. For a long time, it has been assumed that they
were responsible for creating pathways that allowed gases from the
Earth's interior to seep into the seawater. Now, with observations from
the 2010 Maule earthquake in Central Chile, complemented by subsequent
geochemical analysis and geophysical modelling, the scientists from the
GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel are now able to prove
On 27 February 2010, Chile was hit with a 8.8 magnitude earthquake,
which triggered a tsunami that affected the coastal sections of Central
Chile. It was one of the ten most powerful earthquakes ever measured.
The number of victims was lower than what one would have expected from
an earthquake of that magnitude. However, the property damage cost more
than US$30 billion.
The earthquake became one of the best observed and
the tremors were scientifically measured, as research teams from
several countries (including a team from GEOMAR) had installed
measuring devices in the region.
During an expedition on the SONNE
research vessel months after the event, they were able to document the
aftermath of the earthquake, using the remotely operated vehicle ROV
Based on their observations, the team from GEOMAR and The Cluster of
Excellence “The Future Ocean” has published their findings of the
resultant methane emissions from the seabed in the international
Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems journal.
They had proved that the
Maule earthquake in 2010 had caused new gas seepage off the coast of
“A link between methane
discharge at the seabed and strong earthquakes has long been suspected,
but it is difficult to prove. The affected seabeds are often several
thousand metres deep and are hard to reach. Thanks to the data from
2010, we are now able to prove this,” said lead author Dr Jacob Geersen in German.
The study was based mainly on data collected during the SONNE's
expedition in September and October 2010. The expedition, which had
actually been planned years earlier, led exactly to the region where
the earthquake's epicentre had been seven months earlier. In addition,
during the ROV KIEL 6000's excursions to the ocean depths, it recorded
fresh cracks on the seabed.
obviously emerged during the quake, just seven months before our
expedition. On a geological time scale, this is just a blink of an eye,” explained co-author Dr Peter Linke from GEOMAR, who was then the expedition coordinator.
Using modern sensor technology, the team detected a very high methane
content in the water around the cracks as early as 2010. More accurate
analysis showed that the methane had originated not from the uppermost
layers of the ocean, but the deeper areas of the Earth's crust.
geophysical and geochemical data, the images from the ROV KIEL 6000, as
well as the samples obtained by the authors, have been supplemented by
geophysical stress calculations of the subsurface.
show that the earthquake has re-activated deep faults in the ground,
which in turn serve as channels for methane,” explained co-author Dr
Florian Scholz from GEOMAR.
The study shows, on an international scale, that strong earthquakes
play an important role in the formation of methane seepage at the
seafloor and the transport of gases from deep within the Earth's crust
up to the surface.
expeditions into earthquake regions are necessary before it is possible
to tell how much gases are being released by tectonic processes,
whether and how these processes vary over time, and whether the gases
can reach the atmosphere,” said Dr Geersen.