pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 126, Issue 2–4, pp 177–209 | Cite as

Hydrologic precursors to earthquakes: A review

  • Evelyn A. Roeloffs
Hydrologic and Geochemical Precursors

Abstracts

This review summarizes reports of anomalous flow rates or pressures of groundwater, oil, or gas that have been interpreted as earthquake precursors. Both increases and decreases of pressure and flow rate have been observed, at distances up to several hundred kilometers from the earthquake epicenter, with precursor times ranging from less than one day to more than one year. Although information that might rule out nontectonic causes does not appear in many published accounts of hydrologic anomalies, several recent studies have critically evaluated the possible influences of barometric pressure, rainfall, and groundwater or oil exploitation. Anomalies preceding the 1976 Tangshan, China, and the 1978 Izu-Oshima-Kinkai, Japan, earthquakes are especially well-documented and worthy of further examination.

Among hydrologic precursors, pressure head changes in confined subsurface reservoirs are those most amenable to quantitative interpretation in terms of crustal strain. The response of pressure head to earth tides determines coefficients of proportionality between pressure head and crustal strain. The same coefficients of proportionality should govern the fluid pressure response to any crustal strain field in which fluid flow in the reservoir is unimportant. Water level changes in response to independently recorded tectonic events, such as earthquakes and aseismic fault creep, provide evidence that a calibration based on response to earth tides may be applied to crustal strains of tectonic origin.

Several models of earthquake generation predict accelerating stable slip on part of the future rupture plane. If precursory slip has moment less than or equal to that of the impending earthquake, then the coseismic volume strain is an upper bound for precursory volume strain. Although crustal strain can be only crudely estimated from most reported pressure head anomalies, the sizes of many anomalies within 150 kilometers of earthquake epicenters appear consistent with this upper bound. In contrast, water level anomalies at greater epicentral distances appear to be larger than this bound by several orders of magnitude.

It is clear that water level monitoring can yield information about the earthquake generation process, but progress higes on better documentation of the data.

Key words

Earthquake prediction hydrologic precursors water level 

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© Birkhäuser Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Evelyn A. Roeloffs
    • 1
  1. 1.U. S. Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA

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