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Quakes may bring nearby rocks closer to rupture

Lab studies could explain how a seemingly stable geologic fault can fail

Some geologic faults suffer from a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: Sections considered resistant to powerful earthquakes can sometimes produce enormous temblors. New research shows how a quake on one fault segment can weaken a neighboring section, allowing a once-steady segment to suddenly slip.

The findings could explain why Japan saw the devastating March 2011 Tohoku quake on the fault segment it did. Seismic hazards in many other fault zones may also need to be reassessed, scientists report online January 9 in Nature.

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