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Here’s One Very Good Reason to Drill Deep Into an Active Fault

Scienctists hope to install instruments at the fault to observe changes in the earth at depth

Satellite image of New Zealand (NASA/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The Alpine Fault on New Zealand’s South Island tends to beget a 8.0 magnitude earthquake approximately once every 300 years, Gizmodo reports. The last quake at the fault was in 1717, and it's due for another large one. This might not seem like the sort of site that you'd want to drill down into, but that's exactly what scientists in New Zealand are planning to do—drill one kilometer down into the earth, right at the site of the fault. 

This way, when the next quake happens, they’ll have instruments in place that can capture it in action.

"We hope this study and ongoing monitoring of conditions within the fault zone will ultimately lead to a better understanding of how faults slip and generate seismic waves during large earthquakes, and what specifically is likely to happen in a future Alpine Fault earthquake," co-leader of the project John Townend said in a press release.

While it seems like the fault tends to "save up all its energy for one big showdown every few hundred years," Townend said, it does produce minor quakes in between. And no one know what exactly keeps the fault on its schedule of one dramatic showing every few centuries.

The team hopes to have the project complete by December. According to Nature, the fault has a 28 percent chance of rupturing in the next 50 years. 

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