Modelling and Observing the Mw 8.8 Chile 2010 and Mw 9.0 Japan 2011 Earthquakes Using GOCE
Earthquakes change the gravity field of the area affected by the earthquake due to mass redistribution in the upper layers of the Earth. In addition, for sub-oceanic earthquakes deformation of the ocean floor causes relative sea-level changes and mass redistribution of water that has again a significant effect on the gravity field. Two such recent, large sub-oceanic earthquakes are the 27 February 2010 Chile Maule earthquake with a magnitude of Mw 8.8 and the 11 March 2011 Japan Tohoku earthquake with a magnitude of Mw 9.0. The goal of ESA’s satellite GOCE—launched in March 2009—is to map the Earth’s gravity field with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. To this end, GOCE carries a gravity gradiometer. Although the mean gravity field is to be mapped, the sheer size of both earthquakes and associated mass redistribution make them both potential candidates for detecting the co-seismic gravity changes in the GOCE gradiometer data. We assess the detectability of gravity field changes in the GOCE gravity gradients by modelling these earthquakes using a forward model. Furthermore, we analyse the GOCE data before and after the respective earthquakes and assess their quality. Based on these analyses we conclude that despite its small signal size at GOCE altitude the Japan earthquake may be visible in the gravity gradients when more post-earthquake data become available. Because of the short data period before the Chile earthquake this signal will probably not be visible.
KeywordsGOCE Gravity gradients Chile Maule earthquake Japan Tohoku earthquake Time variable gravity
This feasibility study is sponsored as part of ESA’s Support to Science Element (STSE). Taco Broerse acknowledges financial support from ISES. The remarks by the Editor, Pascal Willis, and three anonymous referees helped to improve the paper.
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