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    ‘Tiny earthquakes’ help researchers predict mountain rock falls

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    mountain rock falls
    Image caption: Permafrost Laboratory at the University of Sussex Image source: Research & Development Research & Development

    The risk of mountain rock falls in regions with sub-zero temperatures, such as the Swiss Alps and parts of Canada, could be better predicted by using technology, which measures ‘tiny earthquakes’ – according to a group of international experts.  The new study was led by the University of Sussex, geoscientists from the British Geological Survey and the Technical University of Munich.  The scientists reveal that using a micro-seismic technique, which detects tiny earthquakes, which cause cracks in the rock, alongside modern electrical imaging technology, which measures rock mass would provide scientists with much earlier warnings of potential rock falls.  Traditionally scientists use a manual method to monitor rock freezing and thawing, which involves drilling holes into rocks and is affected by frost weathering. During the new study the scientists replicated the conditions of a freezing environment in the Permafrost Laboratory at the University of Sussex and monitored the freeze-thaw of six hard and soft limestone blocks during an experiment that simulated 27 years of natural freezing and thawing.  By using the micro-seismic technique together with capacitive resistivity imaging, which measures freezing and thawing in limestone without having to drill into the rock, the study team recorded a staggering 1000 micro-cracking events.  With previous studies showing that higher temperatures, caused by global warming, have led to more unstable mountain rocks – the scientists, who took part in the new study, believe that using the two monitoring techniques together could prove vital for thousands of skiers and mountain climbers who undertake trips every year.

    Source: sussex.ac.uk

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