Natural disasters like forest fires and earthquakes have more than just havoc-reeking, destructive natures in common, according to scientist Eduardo Jagla of the National Atomic Energy Commission in Argentina. In a paper to appear in the APS journal, Physical Review Letters, Jagla found that a statistical model describing the behavior of forest fires could be used to characterize the decay rate of earthquakes.
The number of earthquakes that can occur in a given region over a period of time follows a surprisingly simple logarithmic scale expressed by the Gutenberg-Richter Law. The law takes into account the magnitude of an earthquake, the seismicity rate of the region in question and a constant, called the b-value. Although the b-value hovers around one (give or take 0.5) for most regions, scientists do not fully understand why one is the magic number.
The b-value satisfies observational experiments that follow the GR law, but its origin remains unknown. Jagla proposed that aftershocks are, in part, the reason behind the b-value. This conclusion emerged when Jagla discovered that he could obtain the appropriate b-value by applying the GR model to a scenario of a forest fire spreading from tree to tree.
|Credit: Eduardo Jagla who describes: "The attached figure can be interpreted in two different ways: each black pixel can represent a tree in a forest, or intensity of gray can represent the local stress of a tectonic fault."|
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