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Understanding Earthquake Oscillations

Bijay Bal and Kuntal Ghosh

Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics,
1/AF Bidhannagar, Kolkata-700064, India,

1 Introduction
Do earthquakes have anything to do with oscillations? The question naturally
arises since the phenomenon of earthquake appears to be a random, chaotic
and unpredictable one, while the term oscillation seems to indicate more to-
wards a periodic and hence predictable event. But we shall presently see that
in spite of this apparent contradiction, earthquakes can indeed be understood
in terms of a particular type of oscillation known as relaxation oscillation. Un-
derstanding the dynamics of any system is the primary condition for making
any prediction about the system. The efforts to explain tectonic plate move-
ment in terms of oscillations is not absolutely new [1] as we shall soon see, but
the present approach is a new effort in this direction with the help of some
simple table-top experiments.
We all know that the term earthquake covers any vibration of the earth’s
surface due to natural causes. Presently, earthquakes are classified with re-
spect to their origin into three different types: tectonic, volcanic and colluese
or denudation. Of these, the last mentioned type represents the earthquakes
occurring due to the collapse of considerable amount of mass like a large land-
slide occurring in mountain region. The earthquakes associated with volcanic
activity are also understandable from a similar approach, but a clear picture
about the first type i.e. the dynamics of tectonic movement which lead to
earthquakes and associated devastations, is yet to come out. There is one
most prevalent hypothesis on the primary cause of tectonic movement, which
is known as the convection cell hypothesis. According to this, unequal heat
distribution in the mantle may produce convection cells driven by heat from
radioactive decay in the earth’s interior below the lithosphere. Hot material
rises, spreads laterally, cools and sinks deeper into the mantle to be reheated.
While the Shallow Convection Cell Model claims that the convection cells are
restricted to the asthenosphere, the Deep Convection Cell Model is based on
the assumption that the entire mantle is involved in convection. This move-
ment in the mantle is of the order of a few centimeters per year. However,

As a matter of fact the modern convection cell hypothesis. it is also well-known to us that there are other type of oscillations where unlike the sine or cosine wave. one of a square wave and the other a saw tooth wave. The challenge to these gradualist ideas came from the pulsation hypothesis which was intro- duced by W. which when energized by a time-independent source. However. but also one that changes its state in an abrupt manner as shown in these examples. it in fact utilized the basic principles of the contraction hypothesis[1]. Such waveforms may represent a system. the functional form changes its state in an abrupt manner. Meyerhoff and Meyerhoff [4] have also pointed out similar inconsistencies in the thery of tectonic plate movement based on convection cell hypothesis. we see the picture of a pressure cooker. The maximum pressure at which the jet starts operating may be termed as . seen in our everyday life. have been shown in Figures 1(b) and 1(c). (b) A major earthquake is associated with pre-shaking and post-shaking.1 Relaxation Oscillation in Pressure Cooker In Figure 2. H. produces an output that is not only time-dependent and periodic. mentioned above. Two such examples. Wesson [2] has also pointed out as many as 74 objections to gradualist plate tectonics. 2 Earthquakes and Relaxation Oscillation Whenever we speak of an oscillation. Elie de Beuamont in the middle of the nineteenth century based on the cosmogenic hypothesis of Kant-Laplace were two very strong gradualist models [1]. (c) The possibility of major earthquakes is to recur with time. The tussle between the oscillatory model and the gradualist model has got a long and chequered history in tectonic movement understanding. such a system is termed as a relaxation oscillation based system. probably the first thing that comes to our mind is a sinusoidal oscillation shown in Figure 1(a). He has shown that there is no convection in mantle at all. Beloussov [3]. The model proposed here. Butcher in 1920. in its turn also tries to take into cognizance alternate regions of stretching and contraction due to alternately oriented convection currents [1]. 2. For exam- ple the elevation hypothesis advanced in the eighteenth century by Lomonosov and Hutton or the contraction hypothesis put forward by L. is a new oscillatory model through which we shall try to answer the inadequacies of the convection cell hypothesis.2 Bijay Bal and Kuntal Ghosh these models are not adequate to explain some observed phenomena like: (a) Development of stress with time on tectonic plate and subsequent break- down. It is interesting to note that although this hypothesis falls in the oscillatory line.

This height. is retained as long as the flow continues and then then when the weight drops back to its original position. In other words if we change the rate of heating. the frequency of steam ejection through the jet will be a function of both the weight as well as the rate of heating by the heating system. The position of the weight is binary. Next we present the . i. 1. relevant to our discussion [5]. the frequency of ejection will only change and not the maximum amplitude in the pressure meter. On the other hand. In Figure 3 (a). will undergo changes. But if the weight is adjusted then both fre- quency as well as the maximum amplitude reached. either 0 (rest position)or 1 (ejection position). is deter- mined by the weight placed at the top. Understanding Earthquake Oscillations 3 Fig. 2.e. This means that the system is associated with a hysteresis loop as is evident from Figure 3(b). (a)A sine wave (b)A square wave (c)A sawtooth wave the barrier height of the cooker. it is easy to understand. It is clear from the figure that maximum pressure at which the weight gets lifted and the jet flow begins. This is a typical example of relaxation oscillation comparable with many natural events. A schematic diagram of the pressure cooker used for conducting the exper- iment tal results of the variation of pressure as measured in the pressure meter. we show the experimen- Fig. the pressure meter shows a different (lower) reading.

in the thermometer shown in Figure 2. The situation may be compared to the phenomenon of volcanic eruption (Figure 4). We find from Figure 3(c). in this case the amplitude of volcanic activity will depend upon the barrier height that is to be exceeded in order that the volcanic activity may start. The change of pressure and temperature inside the volcano is understandable from such an experiment. This barrier height can be studied from the history of earlier eruption in the same place and the nature of the sediment settled on the mouth of the volcano. (a)The Pressure-time profile (b) The corresponding hysteresis loop (c) The Temperature-time profile experimental results of temperature variation with time. in these graphs. at the end of its last eruption. The sudden fall in both temperature and pressure. is only natural because of the drop in particle num- ber inside the pressure cooker with each jet emission. 4. following a burst of eruption as indicated by Figures 3(a) and 3(c). A typical volcanic eruption . 3. Moreover. that this variation also follows the pattern of relaxation oscillation. Fig.4 Bijay Bal and Kuntal Ghosh Fig. There should be a similar sharp fall in temperature and pressure inside.

it can even place itself over plate 2. in the light of relaxation oscillation as exhibited by a pop-pop boat. Due to such sudden intermittent movement. 5. The two openings emanating as shown from plate 1 act as the nozzles. as happened with the Indian and Burma plate when the devastating Tsunami was generated on December 26. we see the schematic diagram of a pop-pop boat. so that plate 1 moves forward due to reasons explained above in case of the pop-pop boat. as opposed to a continuous one. 3 Earthquake Prediction We shall first discuss the phenomenon of pre-shaking and post-shaking asso- ciated with earthquake occurrences and explain their possible causes in the . but doe so in discrete steps with a pop-pop sound. The schematic diagram of a pop-pop boat into the reactor through one of the nozzles (marked with the same shade as water). The barrier height (hdg) ensures that this phenomenon is another instance of relaxation oscillation The tectonic plate movement can be explained through this approach as is evident from Figure 6. 2004. the bubble is released [5] and the boat moves forward under its impact. In course of time this will develop a stress on plate 2 that may result in plate subduction. In Figure 5. also under water. gets heated and the resultant steam forms a bubble at the outlet of the other nozzle. Understanding Earthquake Oscillations 5 2. Once the pressure developed within the bubble exceeds the pressure exerted by water at that height (hdg-where ’h’ is the depth of the outlet nozzle and ’d’ the specific gravity of water). As the name indicates the boat does not actually move continually. a childhood toy of many of us.2 Relaxation Oscillation in Pop-pop Boat We shall now try to understand tectonic plate movement that is responsible for earthquakes. Water enters through the previous nozzle and the cycle continues. Water enters Fig. Here the liquid is the fluid magma on which the plates are floating.

They are also observ- able in pressure cookers as short intermittent hissing sounds just before the final ejection of steam through the jet. From such an approach. 7. Movement of tectonic plate in the light of pop-pop model light of the present model. the plate (lid in our analogy) is likely to rapture at many places due to the impact.6 Bijay Bal and Kuntal Ghosh Fig. we shall also try to predict the nature of earthquake in a region. may not be always that simple. it gives the lid small pushes in order to find an outlet. (a) The pressure cooker with two different weights (b) The same pressure cooker with a partition in between in case of tectonic plates however. once a severe earthquake occurs. When such a system is heated which of the two weights will be lifted? Clearly. as the steam accumulates within the bowl. Now. both these weights may get lifted from time to time. This is evident in Figure 7(b). Now if we place such a fractured lid atop the bowl . We now come to the phenomenon of pre-shaking associated with earthquakes. Such small amplitude movements are compa- rable to the pre-shakings associated with earthquakes. where the same pressure cooker is separated within by a partition. Let us recapitulate our pressure cooker model again and have a look at Figure 7(a). When a lid is placed on a bowl of water that is placed on a heating system (Figure 8a). in a real situation. becomes more complicated and as a matter of fact. In such a case prediction about which weight will come into picture and when. 6. We find that instead of one there are two weights one of which is double the mass of the other. the lower weight will always act as the barrier height and the more massive one will in fact never come into picture. The analogy Fig.

451–458 (1998) . pp. Wesson: Journal of Geology 80.F. then the possibility of another major earthquake in that region diminishes. C. A. In: Geology with the elements of Geomorphology. American Geophysical Union 60. V. Understanding Earthquake Oscillations 7 Fig. although small magnitude earthquakes will occur more frequently. Madhuri Katti and Bijay Bal: Physica D 112. References 1. Meyerhoff and H. Egorov (Mir Publishers. 8. the number being of course dependent upon the com- position as well as the morphology of the plate at that position. then the new frequency of oscillation of such a fractured lid will be governed by the path of minimum impedance. A. S.i. P. pp. (a) A vessel of water covered by a lid (b) The vessel is covered by fractures of the same lid placed carefully over a net with the help of a net (Figure 8b). This is how we can explain the lower amplitude aftershocks that follow a high magnitude earthquake. So a major earthquake will probably be associated with a number of new fractures in the plate. pp. 185–197 (1972) 3. Moscow 1986) pp 370–385 2. the smallest fractured portion of the lid. The exact amplitude and frequency of such oc- currences will be governed by how the trapping arrangement of fluid magma within the new tectonic pieces after the formation of the fractures changes. Meyerhoff: American Association of Petroleum Ge- ologists (AAPG) Bulletin 56. The new movements of the tectonic pieces due to such new arrangement may in turn lead to the accumulation of new stresses that may again usher in the possibility of another major earthquake there in course of time. Yakushova: Factors Conditioning the Tectonic Movements and Develop- ment of the Earth’s Crust. 207–210 (1979) 4. 269–336 (1972) 5. translated by G. Tectonic Hypotheses. A. V. If a large number of such fractures are created. A.e. pp. Beloussov: EOS.


7 .Index paragraph.