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Is mankind or nature responsible for tremors of the earth? A new patent knows the answer

Is mankind or nature responsible for tremors of the earth? A new patent knows the answer

Tue Jun 20 10:47:05 CEST 2017

The European patent is the result of joint research by the Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics of the CAS and Seismik s.r.o. With this help, scientists can determine whether the nature is responsible for the creation of an earthquake or human activity induces it, such as mining activity, injecting liquids into deep wells, dam construction, and others.

“This knowledge can be important not only for determining the liability for possible damage, but it will also enable operators of the activities that can trigger an earthquake to recognize this danger in a timely manner and by appropriate measures to prevent negative consequences,” stated the Director of the Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics of the CAS Josef Stemberk. “The usage of the patent is being considered for instance in an experimental project on the use of geothermal energy, which is currently being prepared in Litoměřice,” added the Director.

“It is a methodology that allows the measurement of dependency between the observed seismicity and human activity. We thus know how to quantify objectively where the earth tremors are really induced by that certain investigated activity,” said the author of the methodology Leo Eisner. According to him, the organization could apply thanks to the patent unique services in the areas of the development of geothermal power, the extraction of shale gas, the injection of wastewater but perhaps also in mining or the operation of water reservoirs.

Natural seismicity is caused by processes inside the earth, which human activity does not influence, whereas induced seismicity is either triggered or directly caused by humans. Most of the famous earthquakes in the world are natural (for example, the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 with more than a hundred thousand victims), an example of induced earthquakes can be tremors caused by the hydraulic fracking of the first well for shale gas in Great Britain in 2011. Fortunately, this earthquake did not cause any damage to property or injury.

The highly topical issue of the emergence and development of seismicity induced by hydraulic fracking is currently solved by experts within an experiment of the ETH Zürich in the underground laboratory Grimsel in Switzerland. The Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics of the CAS is participating in the experiment.

The European patent of the Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics of the CAS and Seismik s.r.o. has the number 2834672. This patent will be further applied in national states, including Great Britain and Spain.

Prepared by: Department of Media Communication of the Head Office of the CAS
Photo: Institute of the Rock Structure and Mechanics of the CAS