Far-Away Earthquake Caused 'Icequake' in Antarctica

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In February 2010, a massive 8.8 earthquake struck off the coast of central Chile. Even though it occurred nearly 22 miles beneath the surface, it was still powerful enough to cause the deaths of 300 people and severely damage buildings and other infrastructure, according to a CNN report.

But the quake also had an effect 3,000 miles away, in Antarctica.  According to a newly-published study in Nature Geoscience, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that during the Maule temblor, as the quake was named, 12 of the 42 seismic stations on the frozen continent registered “icequakes,” probably due to fracturing of the ice as the planet’s crust shook. It was the first-ever proof that the frozen continent’s ground can be affected by waves being transmitted through the Earth by distant seismic activity.

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“We interpret these events as small icequakes, most of which were triggered during or immediately after the passing of long-period Rayleigh waves generated from the Chilean mainshock,” said Zhigang Peng, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, who led the study.

The study adds further proof of a disturbing phenomenon, in which giant quakes can actually trigger other earthquakes thousands of miles away. A 2013 study, described in this New Scientist article, found that there’s about a 1-in-10 chance that a big one will set off quakes on other distant faults.

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Yet another study in 2012 of the Indian Ocean megaquake linked it to a five-fold increase of quakes with a magnitude 5.5 or greater across the planet, for up to a week afterward. How this happens is still being figured out. The upshot of this is that if there’s a quake far away from you, it’s conceivable you’ll feel the effects.

 

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