Chicago (EurekAlert) - After installing an extensive network of monitoring stations in Costa Rica, researchers have detected slow slip events (also known as "silent earthquakes") along a major fault zone beneath the Nicoya Peninsula. These findings are helping scientists understand the full spectrum of motions occurring on the fault and may yield new insights into the events that lead to major earthquakes.
A slow slip event involves the same fault motion as an earthquake, but it happens so slowly that the ground does not shake. It can be detected only with networks of modern instruments that use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to measure precisely the movements of the Earth's crust over time.
Susan Schwartz, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, leads a team that has installed a permanent network of 13 GPS monitoring stations and 13 seismic stations on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula.
"At least two slow slip events have occurred beneath the Nicoya Peninsula since 2003," Schwartz said. "When we recorded the first one in 2003, we had only 3 GPS stations. By 2007, we had 12 GPS stations and over 10 seismic stations, so the event that year was very nicely recorded."
The 2007 slow slip event in Costa Rica involved movement along the fault equivalent to a magnitude 6.9 earthquake. But it took place over a period of 30 days rather than the 10 seconds typical for an earthquake of that size, and such slow motion does not radiate the seismic energy associated with normal earthquakes.
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Contact: Tim Stephens