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How fluid viscosity affects earthquake intensity

Fault zones play a key role in shaping the deformation of the Earth’s crust. All of these zones contain fluids, which heavily influence how earthquakes propagate. In an article published in Nature Communications, Chiara Cornelio, a PhD student at EPFL’s Laboratory of Experimental Rock Mechanics (LEMR), shows how the viscosity of these fluids directly affects an earthquake’s intensity. After running a series of laboratory tests and simulations, Cornelio developed a physical model to accurately calculate variables such as how much energy an earthquake needs to propagate—and, therefore, its strength—according to the viscosity of subsurface fluids.
This study reminds us that, in order to avoid or moderate earthquakes related to geothermal energy, residual water injection or natural resource extraction, it is crucial to better understand the nature of fluids and their effects. The researchers also encourage industries to take more account of these properties into their thinking, rather than focusing solely on volume and pressure considerations.