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Finite element simulation of an intraplate earthquake setting—Implications for the Virginia earthquake of 23 August 2011

John K. Costain
John K. Costain
Department of Geosciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA
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January 01, 2015

The 23 August 2011 M 5.7 intraplate earthquake occurred in the Central Virginia seismic zone near Mineral, Virginia (USA), far from the nearest plate boundaries. I suggest here that this earthquake, as well as others occurring in this region since 1774, was triggered by pore-fluid pressure diffusion associated with groundwater recharge. Using finite element modeling (FEM) estimates are made of the magnitude and timing of pressure diffusion with respect to the time of the earthquake. Two scenarios are considered: (1) the diffusion took place along vertical to near-vertical diffusion paths, or (2) the diffusion was restricted to a hydraulically transmissive fracture zone that was later illuminated by thousands of aftershocks. Both scenarios have merit. The fracture zone may not have been entirely generated by the main shock. For either model a fractured crust is assumed to be recharged at the surface of the Earth by groundwater recharge with subsequent pore-fluid pressure diffusion propagating to the hypocenter. The transient behavior of pore-fluid pressure is examined at the focal depth of 8 km. These results are compared with the duration and timing of base flow (groundwater recharge) as estimated from a hydrograph separation. The delays of the peaks in pore-fluid pressure diffusion as computed by the FEM simulations are found to be consistent with the start and duration of groundwater recharge with respect to the timing of the Virginia earthquake.

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GSA Special Papers

The 2011 Mineral, Virginia, Earthquake, and Its Significance for Seismic Hazards in Eastern North America

Geological Society of America
ISBN print:
Publication date:
January 01, 2015



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