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Heads-Up: Pacific quake, Japan's tectonic stresses

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Issue 217 8 - 14 February 2013

In This Issue
Japan quake study

Solomon Islands

SCANZ conference

New from the SMC

New Sciblogger

Sciblogs highlights

Research highlights

Policy News

Sci-tech events

Quick Links

SMC Alerts

Media Registration
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Japan quake released stress
Samples of rock drilled from depths of the Pacific seafloor have revealed the tremendous release of tectonic pressure that occurred during the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake.

The findings could have important implications for the understanding of fault boundaries and tsunami risk near New Zealand, says a Kiwi geologist involved the research.

The new study, published today in the journal Science, found that nearly all the stress built up at the plate boundary near the epicentre was released in the tsunami-generating magnitude 9.0 quake.

Researchers on board the scientific drilling vessel Chikyu drilled boreholes into the fault zone, 850 meters below the sea floor and almost seven kilometers underwater (video of scientists aboard the Chikyu identifying the fault zone in drill core samples can be seen here).

The stresses on rock samples were measured using electrical currents to detect the extent of fracturing.

Dr Virginia Toy
The results of the study indicated a nearly complete drop in stress following the earthquake. Such a large release is unusual, according to University of Otago geologist Dr Virginia Toy.

"This is significant because most earthquake faults only release a small portion (typically 10%) of the stress in the crust around them, not nearly 100% as in this case," she said in a media release from the University of Otago.

Dr Toy also said the results suggest that subduction zone faults in other locations, including around New Zealand, need to be more carefully examined. New Zealand has "so much of its coastline exposed to the Pacific Ocean, which is ringed by subduction zones, for example in Tonga-Kermadec, Hikurangi and Chile."

"If the materials in the fault planes are similar to those in the Japan Trench, it is likely they will also be very frictionally weak and therefore that we can also expect very large seafloor displacements when they slip,"

"It means that we should be prepared for other similar subduction zones to generate very large tsunami."

Selected examples of media coverage of the study can be found here.
On the science radar...
Food and sleep, smelling in stereo, 3D printed stem cells, the return of Richard III and exploding robots.
Solomon Islands shaken, swamped
The full extent of the damage from Wednesday's magnitude 8.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Solomon Islands is still to be determined.

While New Zealanders enjoyed a sunny Waitangi Day holiday, the Solomon Islands were shaken by a magnitude 8.0 quake with an epicentre near the Santa Cruz Islands.

The quake triggered a tsunami which flooded several islands, causing damage to villages. Tsunami warnings were also issued for more distant coastlines, including New Zealand, but lifted later in the day.

Currently, ten people are reported dead in the Solomon Islands but the number may rise as others remain missing.

Strong aftershocks continue to be reported in the region.

Professor James Goff, Director of the Tsunami and Natural Hazards Research Group at the University of New South Wales, commented to the AusSMC:

"This part of the Solomon Islands is in a particularly active part of the boundary between the Australian and Pacific Plates, and has seen a swarm of earthquakes recently. In geological terms, this is hot on the heels of the 2007 event that occurred in the Western Province and killed 52 people - an area of different plate boundaries and different activity, but in reality we know very little about the long-term earthquake and tsunami activity of the entire Solomon Islands region and so cannot say with any confidence whether this type of event we have seen today is out of the ordinary or how often we might expect it to happen in the future.

"Much work needs to be done to improve our understanding of such events in the Solomon Islands for the safety of both local and regional communities."

Professor Goff will be taking up an Erskine Fellowship as a visiting lecturer at the University of Canterbury in April, working on tsunami research.

You can read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

Science panel up for a Challenge
A panel of top researchers and some budding young scientists have been appointed to identify New Zealand's National Science Challenges for the Government.
The panel will sift through hundreds of submissions with the aim of identifying the top 10 challenges to put before the government by the end of February.
Selection criteria for challenges includes the likelihood of impact, scientific feasibility and overall benefit to New Zealand.
Announcing the panel, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said, "Over the last few months we have had excellent input from both the public and the science sector, with hundreds of submissions, ideas and proposals on what these key challenges should be."

"The final challenges will help focus our overall science funding investment, and help foster links across the research community in New Zealand to maximise the impact of work already underway in the Challenge areas.

The Panel, chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman, includes SMC Advisory Panel Member Prof Jacqueline Rowarth and Macdiarmid PhD student Elf Eldridge, who writes for SciBlogs.

Details of the full panel can be found in a media release
from the Ministry of Business and Innovation and Employment.

Quoted: Radio New Zealand

"I'd be disappointed if these weren't very visionary. You might never quite achieve it but you are going to do a hell of a lot on the way through."

- Dr Ian Ferguson on the National Science Challenges

New from the SMC

Experts Respond:
Solomon Island tsunami: Australian experts comment on the quake and resulting tsunami in the Solomon Islands this week.

In the news:
Japan quake a stress reliever: Samples drilled from the seafloor have revealed the extent of tectonic stress released by the 2011 Tohoku quake.

Data viz guru joins Sciblogs
Sciblogs, the largest blog network in Australasia, welcomes a new blogger this week, with Dr Mike Dickison joining the fold.

Mike will be blogging under the banner Pictures of Numbers, where he will be looking at the increasingly popular area of data visualisation and giving New Zealand scientists tips on how to unlock the potential in their own data.

Recently Mike teamed up with fellow Sciblogger Dr Siouxsie Wiles to develop an infographic looking at the morbidly fascinating topic of what New Zealanders die of.

Mike's background is in zoology - he did his PhD on giant flightless birds. He consults on information design and data visualisation. Read more about him here.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's posts:

The case of the disappearing Elf - Elf Eldridge goes dares to question current theories and goes hypothesis testing with science engagement.
Just So Science

'Divine commands' and personal conscience- Ken Perrot examines the philosophy behind arguments
Open Parachute

Beach Mouse Pelt Map - Scibbogs newcomer Mike Dickison does an infographic make over on an ecological research figure.
Pictures of Numbers

Progress in restoring wetlands in New Zealand - Bev Clarkson outlines recent research aiming to increase the number and success rate of wetlands.

Research highlights

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.

Fairytale genetics: A University of Auckland researcher and colleagues have adapted methods from biology to examine patterns of variation in a popular folktale - the Tale of the Kind and the Unkind Girls, which appears in the Brothers Grimm collection. Paralleling human genetic diversity, the researchers found that versions of the folktale changed over geographic distance and language barriers.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Tohoku quake a stress reliever: The massive 2011 earthquake in Japan released nearly all of the stress that had built up along the plate boundary in that region, according to a new study. The Expedition 343 team, which included a University of Otago scientist, drilled bore-holes along the fault line on the seafloor to examine the stress changes in rock layers post-quake. They found that there had been a near complete drop in stress following the earthquake. Images available.
'Listen to your heart': Women who are better at listening to their hearts - literally - tend to have a more positive perception of their own body, according to new research. The study found that accuracy in a heartbeat perception test was linked with perception of one's body as an object, as measured by a questionnaire. These findings have important implications for understanding body image dissatisfaction and clinical disorders which are linked to self-objectification, such as anorexia.

The mothmobile: Forget about dogs driving cars, a new study has put insects behind the wheel. Japanese researchers have developed a two-wheeled robot which is driven by a male silkmoth. The 'drivers' were able to steer the machine to a target point releasing enticing female moth sex pheromones, allowing researchers to closely monitor the moths neural activity during goal-oriented behaviour. Video available here.
Bioinspiration and Biomimetics

Mobile networks measure rain: Because raindrops absorb and scatter the radio signals received by cellular communication towers, cell phone communication networks could be used to monitor rainfall, say Dutch researchers. They were able to use cell networks in the Netherlands to record rainfall patterns and suggest their method could be used in locales with poor meteorological monitoring systems.

Digital text easy on old eyes: Despite grumbling about the new technology, older readers seem to find it easier to read text on digital devices like e-readers and tablets. New research used brainwave monitoring and eye tracking to show that reading text on digital devices (as opposed plain old paper) requires less neural effort for older individuals - but not younger participants.

Policy updates

Some of the policy highlights from this week:

Science Challenge panel: A panel of 11 top researchers and young scientists have been appointed to identify New Zealand's National Science Challenges for the Government.

Upcoming sci-tech events
The Invisible World: Images of Nanotechnology - Opening 8 February; Exhibition 8-23 February, Auckland.
Moving in extreme environments symposium - 8-9 February, Dunedin.
Sixth International Conference on Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology (AMN-6) - 11-15 February, Auckland.
Accurate and Efficient Use of Nutrients on Farms - 26th Annual FLRC Workshop - 12-14 February, Palmerston North.
Energy at the Crossroads: Energy Innovation for a Sustainable Society - 12 -14 February, Wellington.

For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.


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