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On the Generation of ULF Magnetic Variations by Conductivity Fluctuations in a Fault Zone


 — Prior to the October 18, 1989 Loma Prieta M s 7.1 earthquake, Fraser-Smith et al. (1990) recorded a 10–100 fold increase in ultra-low frequency (ULF) magnetic fields near the earthquake epicenter. Several mechanisms for generation of these ULF fields by fluid flow in the earth have been advanced, but all appear to require unrealistic fluid velocities or hydraulic permeabilities to match the observations. As an alternative explanation, Merzer and Klemperer (1998) proposed that the increase in ULF magnetic fields could result from induced electric currents flowing in a fault-zone made temporarily much more electrically conductive by stress-induced reorganization of pore geometry. Using a numerical model we show that while this mechanism could produce a significant increase in ULF variations, mutual induction between the fault zone and the surrounding crust would probably limit the amplitude increase to levels well below those observed at Loma Prieta. We consider a variant on this quasi-static conductive fault zone model in which low frequency telluric currents are modulated by small higher frequency variations of bulk fault zone conductivity. We show that because the spectrum of natural EM variations is red, substantially larger relative increases in ULF magnetic fields could be produced by this mechanism with even small conductivity fluctuations at these frequencies. These variations would be easy to detect with a well-designed experiment, if they occurred. In principle this mechanism could explain the Loma Prieta ULF observations, however the magnitude of conductivity fluctuations that would be required to match the very large reported amplification factors still appears to be too large to be physically plausible.

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(Received June 1, 1999, accepted April 6, 2001)

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Egbert, G. On the Generation of ULF Magnetic Variations by Conductivity Fluctuations in a Fault Zone. Pure appl. geophys. 159, 1205–1227 (2002).

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