, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 109-135
Date: 09 Sep 2012

Mechanical and statistical evidence of the causality of human-made mass shifts on the Earth’s upper crust and the occurrence of earthquakes

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Abstract

A global catalog of small- to large-sized earthquakes was systematically analyzed to identify causality and correlatives between human-made mass shifts in the upper Earth’s crust and the occurrence of earthquakes. The mass shifts, ranging between 1 kt and 1 Tt, result from large-scale geoengineering operations, including mining, water reservoirs, hydrocarbon production, fluid injection/extractions, deep geothermal energy production and coastal management. This article shows evidence that geomechanical relationships exist with statistical significance between (a) seismic moment magnitudes M of observed earthquakes, (b) lateral distances of the earthquake hypocenters to the geoengineering “operation points” and (c) mass removals or accumulations on the Earth’s crust. Statistical findings depend on uncertainties, in particular, of source parameter estimations of seismic events before instrumental recoding. Statistical observations, however, indicate that every second, seismic event tends to occur after a decade. The chance of an earthquake to nucleate after 2 or 20 years near an area with a significant mass shift is 25 or 75 %, respectively. Moreover, causative effects of seismic activities highly depend on the tectonic stress regime in which the operations take place (i.e., extensive, transverse or compressive). Results are summarized as follows: First, seismic moment magnitudes increase the more mass is locally shifted on the Earth’s crust. Second, seismic moment magnitudes increase the larger the area in the crust is geomechanically polluted. Third, reverse faults tend to be more trigger-sensitive than normal faults due to a stronger alteration of the minimum vertical principal stress component. Pure strike-slip faults seem to rupture randomly and independently from the magnitude of the mass changes. Finally, mainly due to high estimation uncertainties of source parameters and, in particular, of shallow seismic events (<10 km), it remains still very difficult to discriminate between induced and triggered earthquakes with respect to the data catalog of this study. However, first analyses indicate that small- to medium-sized earthquakes (<M6) seem to be induced and large-sized events (>M6) seem to be triggered. The rupture propagation of triggered events might be dominated by pre-existing tectonic stress conditions.