A leak at the bottom of the sea can be a harbinger of misfortune

University of Washington

The Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) is a massive fault line that stretches from Vancouver Island to northern California. It is the source of the vast majority of earthquakes and tsunamis in the region. In fact, scientists believe the fault line will likely be the source of the next Big One, a predicted megathrust earthquake so powerful it will cause death and destruction like we’ve never seen before from a geological event.

So it goes without saying that researchers have a vested interest in studying the ZSC, and they may have discovered something that could give us clues as to what’s going on with the incredibly powerful ticking time bomb.

Researchers from the University of Washington found hot liquid seeping from the ocean floor near the area about 50 miles off Newport, Oregon. The team suspects that the underwater source, called Pythia’s Oasis, could be connected to the CSZ and that the fault line would be under more stress in the event of a leak. They published their findings Jan. 25 in the journal Scientists progress.

“Pythias Oasis provides a rare window into processes operating deep in the seabed, and its chemistry suggests this fluid originated near the plate boundary,” said Deborah Kelley, UW professor of oceanography and co. – author of the new article. A declaration. “This suggests that neighboring faults regulate fluid pressure and mega-thrust slip behavior along the central Cascadia subduction zone.”

The team discovered the leak after spotting plumes of methane bubbles nearly a mile below the ocean surface. After sending an underwater drone to investigate, they discovered that water with a different chemical composition from the surrounding seawater was seeping into the ocean from a hole in the ground “like a fire hose,” Evan Soloman, a fellow UW oceanographer and a co-author of the journal, said in a statement. “This is something I have never seen and to my knowledge has never been observed before.”

Further analysis revealed the water to be 16 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the seawater surrounding it. The authors suspect that the source of the fluid is about 2 miles below the ocean floor at the CSZ fault line where temperatures are around 300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Why is this a big problem? The researchers say the fluid could act as a sort of pressure regulator between the continental plate and the oceanic plate. The more fluid in the fissures of the faults, the less pressure there is between the two plates as they smash against each other.

So less fluid means there is more pressure between the two plates. This can create a lot of stress in the area and a lot more potential energy that could be triggered in the form of a devastating earthquake.

“The megathrust rift zone is like an air hockey table,” Solomon explained. “If the fluid pressure is high, it’s as if the air is open, which means there’s less friction and the two plates can slide. If the fluid pressure is lower, the two plates lock. This is when stress can build up.

The authors wrote that they were unsure if Pythia’s Oasis was the “only seep of its kind” and suggested that there may be similar seeps in this area of ​​the SAC. As such, seismologists should consider these seeps in future models of the ZSC.

So while it’s unclear when the next Big One is going to happen, it’s at least somewhat comforting to know that we’re still learning everything we can about CSZ to make sure we’re prepared for it when it does. .

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