Newly formed fracture in Indian Ocean tectonic plate may trigger quakes in future

Newly formed fracture in Indian Ocean tectonic plate may trigger quakes in future

A new plate boundary appears to be forming in the region of the Indian Ocean where the 2012 earthquake took place. Scientists say the presence of strike-slip earthquakes along a newly discovered fault system could be evidence of the new formation on the Indo-Australian Plate.

A team of researchers with members from several institutions in Singapore, France and Indonesia has found evidence of a possible new plate boundary forming on the floor of the Indian Ocean in the Wharton Basin. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the team reports that they studied seismic and ocean floor topology to learn more about tectonic plate deformations in the region and what they found by doing so.

Most people are aware of earthquakes that occur when tectonic plates push against one another, but there is another kind called a slip-strike quake. It occurs when two plates slide horizontally against one another. Such quakes can be caused by deformations that occur in plates distant from fault lines as pressure builds up across a plate.

In some cases, such deformations can cause what are known as interplate earthquakes, and they can also sometimes cause a plate to break, resulting in a new plate boundary, which in turn can lead to even more quakes. It is this scenario that the researchers believe happened in 2012 when two earthquakes struck the Andaman-Sumatran region (northwest part) of the Indian Ocean—the largest interplate earthquakes ever recorded.

To better understand what occurred during the 2012 quakes, the researchers studied seismic data that was recorded before, during and after the quakes and also conducted sea floor depth analysis by venturing into the ocean aboard the research vessel Falkor—that allowed them to create high-resolution imagery of the sea floor, which in turn allowed them to note the deformations that had occurred.

Their analysis revealed a new fault system had developed in the area off the coast of Sumatra that was involved in the 2012 quakes. They noted the system was oriented in a way that set it off against those that were around it—a clear indication of deformation. The data also showed that strike-slips in the same area (and distant from known plate boundaries) suggested that the plate had broken along a 1,000k fracture zone, resulting in a new plate boundary—one that is likely to be the site of future fault-slip quakes.

The study was published in the journal Science Advances.