Earthquake that killed nine people in southern Spain was ‘man-made’
A MAJOR earthquake in Spain that claimed the lives of nine people was man-made, according to new research, which blames the process of groundwater extraction for the disaster.
The magnitude 5.1 tremor struck the historic Murcia town of Lorca in the south east of the country in May last year, causing widespread devastation. Among those who died were a 13-year-old boy and a 22-year-old woman, who was eight months pregnant, while more than a hundred other people wereinjured.
Now, scientists say they have evidence that the disaster was not caused by nature, but can be attributed to a controversial technique to suck water out of the ground to feed domestic supplies.
It is believed the loss of water in the ground surrounding Lorca caused stress changes in the Earth’s crust along a major faultline. The disturbance was enough to trigger a rupture in the rock, leading to the earthquake.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, highlight the extent to which human activity can influence seismic shocks. Experts in tectonics hailed the report as “exciting and stimulating” but warned that its conclusions shouldencourage firms to take heed of how their work could inadvertently result in the loss of life.
Scientists from the University of Western Ontario in Canada used satellite data to map the ground deformation caused by the Lorca earthquake. Led by Dr Pablo Gonzalez, a post-doctoral fellow in the university’s department of earth sciences. The team then carried out computer simulations of the fault slip.
The results showed a pattern that correlated with stress changes due to loss of groundwater. Since the 1960s, natural groundwater levels in the Mucia region around Lorca hadreduced by 250 metres.
The researchers wrote: “We conclude that the presented data and modelling results are consistent with a groundwater crustal unloading process, providing a reasonable explanation for the observed fault slip pattern.”
The findings implied that “anthropogenic [human] activities could influence how and when earthquakes occur,” they said.
Professor Jean-PhilippeAvouac, director of the tectonics observatory at the California Institute of Technology inPasadena, said the research should give those carrying out groundwater extraction work pause for thought.
He said: “We should remain cautious of human-induced stress perturbations. We know how to start earthquakes, but we are still far from being able to keep them under control.”
Peter Styles, professor in applied and environmental geophysics at Keele University in Staffordshire, said: “This is a very exciting and stimulating paper. The authors comment on the role which anthropogenic activity can play in stimulating the response of the crust and there will no doubt be speculation as to the implications of this for hydraulic fracturing in the context of shale gas exploration.”
Previous studies have linked earthquakes to oil and gas extraction. Last year, the controversial gas extraction technique known as fracking triggered two tremors near Blackpool, prompting a government panel of experts to review its safety.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west