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An earthquake or a snow avalanche has its own shape

Date:
December 20, 2013
Source:
Aalto University
Summary:
Predicting earthquakes or snow avalanches is difficult, but to for instance reduce the related risks it is of high importance to know if an avalanche event is big or small. Researchers found that such events or say the acoustic sound bursts coming from the tearing of paper have a typical form independent of whether they are big or small.

Earthquakes (the picture shows the San Andreas fault) and snow avalanches (an avalanche in Mount Everest shown on lower left corner) are examples of systems exhibiting bursty avalanche dynamics. Individual bursts have a highly irregular, complex structure (upper left corner). However, they have also a typical, well-defined average shape which depends on certain fundamental properties of the system, i.e. its universality class in the language of physics (upper right corner).
Credit: Aalto University

Predicting earthquakes or snow avalanches is difficult, but to for instance reduce the related risks it is of high importance to know if an avalanche event is big or small. Researchers from Aalto University in Finland have, together with colleagues from Oslo and ENS, Lyon, found that such events or say the acoustic sound bursts coming from the tearing of paper have a typical form independent of whether they are big or small.

However, it is crucial what one observes -- paper fracture or the avalanching of snow. The results were just published in the Nature Communications journal.

Avalanches of snow or earthquakes can be described in other ways than the well-known Gutenberg-Richter scale, which gives a prediction of how likely a big avalanche or event is. Each avalanche or burst has its own typical shape or form, which tells for instance when most snow is sliding after the avalanche has started. The shape of can be predicted based on mathematical models, or one can find the right model by looking at the measured shape.

-- We studied results from computer simulations, and found different kinds of forms of events. We then analyzed them with pen and paper, and together with our experimental collaborators, and concluded that our predictions for the avalanche shapes were correct, Mikko Alava explains.

The results can be applied to comparing experiments with simplified model systems, to a much greater depth. The whole shape of an avalanche holds much more information than say the Gutenberg-Richter index, even with a few other so-called critical exponents.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Aalto University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lasse Laurson, Xavier Illa, Stéphane Santucci, Ken Tore Tallakstad, Knut Jørgen Måløy, Mikko J Alava. Evolution of the average avalanche shape with the universality class. Nature Communications, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3927

Cite This Page:

Aalto University. "An earthquake or a snow avalanche has its own shape." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131220113357.htm>.
Aalto University. (2013, December 20). An earthquake or a snow avalanche has its own shape. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131220113357.htm
Aalto University. "An earthquake or a snow avalanche has its own shape." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131220113357.htm (accessed August 2, 2014).

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