Leak at Pacific ocean floor, may lead to earthquake of magnitude 9.0: Report - Hindustan Times

Leak at Pacific ocean floor closer to Oregon, may lead to earthquake of magnitude 9.0: Report

May 31, 2023 11:08 PM IST

The leak is on top of the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault which is around 80 km off the coast of Oregon in the United States.

A liquid observed to be seeping upwards from the Pacific Ocean floor located at about 80 km off the coast of Oregon in the United States has caused a ‘concern’.

The liquid emanating from the leak was discovered to be ‘tectonic lubricant’ (University of Washington)
The liquid emanating from the leak was discovered to be ‘tectonic lubricant’ (University of Washington)

This occurrence has the potential to trigger a ‘great’ earthquake of magnitude 9.0, as per Michigan Tech University's Earthquake Magnitude Scale. A study conducted by the University of Washington has shed light on the Pacific Northwest, indicating the possibility of a massive earthquake occurring in the region.

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According to the findings published in the journal Science Advances, the leakage originates around four kilometres beneath the seafloor within the Cascadia Subduction Zone. This subduction zone, known for its susceptibility to earthquakes is also in close proximity to the Canadian coastline.

What is this liquid and where is it located exactly?

According to the Science Advances paper, the liquid emanating from the leak is ‘tectonic lubricant’ and found to be around 9 degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean water. The leak is situated within the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault, which serves as the boundary between two immense tectonic plates: the comparatively smaller offshore ‘Juan de Fuca plate’ and the significantly larger ‘North American plate’. This is in the region spanning from Northern California to Vancouver Island.

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How was it discovered?

In 2015, a team from the University of Washington discovered a leak located atop the 966 km-long Cascadia Subduction Zone fault a ship's sonar sonar detected ‘unexpected’ bubbles beneath the ocean's surface. Subsequently, an underwater robot revealed that the liquid was a ‘chemically distinct fluid’, which was later identified as tectonic liquid.

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Why the leak can be dangerous?

The presence of the fluid discovered off the coast of the Cascadia megathrust plays a crucial role in maintaining fluid pressure between sediment particles. Researchers suggest that the loss of this fluid could reduce pressure, leading to increased friction between the oceanic and continental tectonic plates.

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Means, this could cause the plates beneath the ocean and those under the continental United States to become locked, generating stress that may eventually triggering an earthquake of magnitude 9.0. Such an earthquake occurring on the seafloor of an ocean can trigger a significant tsunami, posing a severe threat to nearby coastal communities.

Although this is the first known occurrence of such a leak in the ocean, scientists believe there could be others, potentially in close proximity.

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