The damage caused by earthquakes is well documented, but a newly recorded “boomerang” quake can hit once, turn around, then hit harder and faster the econd time, a new study found.
Researchers from the University of South Hampton and the Imperial College London recorded a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in the Atlantic Ocean in August 2016, one of only a handful to ever be recorded, and published their findings in the journal Nature Geoscience on Aug. 10, CBS news reported.
The earthquake’s pattern has the potential to cause devastation if one were to hit land, according to a release from the Imperial College London.
The boomerang earthquake had two phases, researchers found. First the rupture traveled upward and eastward between the South American and African tectonic plates, then it turned back around, traveling toward the center of the fault faster than before, at a speed of 3.7 miles per second, according to CBS.
“Even though the fault structure seems simple, the way the earthquake grew was not, and this was completely opposite to how we expected the earthquake to look before we started to analyze the data,” Stephen Hicks, seismologist and lead researcher of the study, said in the release.
Because there was so little evidence of boomerang earthquakes before, models didn’t take the hazards of such a phenomenon into account, according to the release. If a boomerang were to hit land, it could dramatically impact the amount of “ground shaking,” the release said.
This new understanding could allow researchers to improve modeling and predicting future earthquakes , according to Imperial College London.
“Studies like this help us understand how past earthquakes ruptured, how future earthquakes may rupture, and how that relates to the potential impact for faults near populated areas,” Kasey Aderhold, a seismologist with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, told National Geographic in an email.
While recordings of boomerang earthquakes are scarce, mounting evidence suggests they might occur more than previously thought, National Geographic reported.
“This might be actually more common than we think,” Yoshihiro Kaneko, a geophysicist at GNS Science in New Zealand, who was not part of the study, told National Geographic.