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Caltech scientists can’t rule out another Japanese megaquake

    A Japanese Buddhist monk prays at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, April 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

Like a double charge of powder in a cannon, the March 11 earthquake off Japan was focused in a seafloor area half the size expected for such a large movement of earth, Caltech scientists have calculated.

And their study has called attention to an area just south of the quake zone, which they say has geophysical similarities.

"It is important to note that we are not predicting an earthquake here," Mark Simons, a professor of geophysics at Caltech’s Seismological Laboratory, said of the area to the south. "However, we do not have data on the area, and therefore should focus attention there, given its proximity to Tokyo."

The length of fault that experienced significant slip during the 9.0-magnitude quake was about 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, says Simons. Furthermore, the section where the fault slipped the most — by 98 feet or more — was only 30 to 60 miles long, according to Simons.

"This is not something we have documented before," says Simons. "I’m sure it has happened in the past, but technology has advanced only in the past 10 to 15 years to the point where we can measure these slips much more accurately through GPS and other data."

The first large set of observational data from the quake, which scientists are calling a "megathrust event," were detailed online Thursday in Science Express.

The quake occurred at a subduction zone where the Pacific plate dips below Japan. Simons says the pressure along the zone may have been building for 500 to 1,000 years.


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