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Deepest scientific ocean drilling effort sheds light on Japan’s next ‘big one’ – University of Washington

September 22, 2022

White ship seen from below

The deep-sea scientific drilling vessel Chikyu, which in 2018 performed the deepest drilling of a subduction zone earthquake fault.Wikimedia/Gleam

Scientists who drilled deeper into an undersea earthquake fault than ever before have found that the tectonic stress in Japan’s Nankai subduction zone is less than expected.

The results of the study led by the University of Washington and the University of Texas at Austin, published Sept. 5 in Geology, are a puzzle, since the fault produces a great earthquake almost every century and was thought to be building for another big one.

Although the Nankai fault has been stuck for decades, the findings reveal that it is not yet showing major signs of pent-up tectonic stress. Authors say the result doesn’t alter the long-term outlook for the fault, which last ruptured in 1946, when it caused a tsunami that killed thousands, and is expected to do so again during the next 50 years.

The findings will help scientists home in on the link between tectonic forces and the earthquake cycle. This could potentially lead to better earthquake forecasts, both at Nankai and other megathrust faults, like the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington and Oregon.

Harold Tobin of the University Washington inspects drilling risers. Researchers used similar equipment during a record-breaking attempt to drill Japan’s Nankai fault in 2018.University of Washington

“Right now, we have no way of knowing if the big one for Cascadia — a magnitude-9 scale earthquake and tsunami — will happen this afternoon or 200 years from now,” said lead author Harold Tobin, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and co-chief scientist on the drilling expedition. “But I have some optimism that with more and more direct observations like this one from Japan we can start to recognize when something anomalous is occurring and that the risk of an earthquake is heightened in a way that could help people prepare.

“We learn how these faults work by studying them all over the world, and that knowledge will directly translate into insight into the Cascadia hazard as well.”

Megathrust faults such as Nankai and Cascadia, and the tsunamis they generate, are among the most powerful and damaging on the globe. Scientists say they currently have no reliable way of knowing when and where the next big one will hit.

The hope is that by directly measuring the force felt between tectonic plates pushing on each other — tectonic stress — scientists can learn when a great earthquake is ready to happen.

“This is the heart of the subduction zone, right above where the fault is locked, where the expectation was that the system should be storing energy between earthquakes,” said co-author Demian Saffer at University of Texas at Austin, who also co-led the scientific drilling expedition. “It changes the way we’re thinking about stress in these systems.”

The nature of tectonics means that the great earthquake faults are found in deep ocean, miles under the seafloor, making them incredibly challenging to measure directly. Tobin and Saffer’s drilling expedition is the closest scientists have come.

Their record-breaking feat took place in 2018 aboard a Japanese scientific drilling ship, the Chikyu, which drilled almost 2 miles, or just over 3 kilometers, into the tectonic plate before the borehole got too unstable to continue — 1 mile short of the fault.

Nevertheless, the researchers gathered invaluable data about subsurface conditions near the fault, including stress. To do that, they measured how much the borehole changed shape as the Earth squeezed it from the sides, then pumped water to see what it took to force its walls back out. That told them the direction and strength of horizontal stress felt by the plate pushing on the fault.

Contrary to predictions, the horizontal stress expected to have built up since the most recent great earthquake was close to zero, as if the system had already released its pent-up energy.

The researchers suggested several explanations: It could be that the fault simply needs less pent-up energy than thought to slip in a big earthquake, or that the stresses are lurking nearer to the fault than the drilling reached. Or it could be that the tectonic push will come suddenly in the coming years. Either way, the researchers said the drilling showed the need for further investigation and long-term monitoring of the fault.

“Findings like this can seem like they muddy the picture, because things aren’t as simple as our theory or models predicted they were,” Tobin said. “But that just means we’re gaining more understanding of how the real world works, and the real world is messy and complicated.”

The research was funded by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, or JAMSTEC. Other co-authors are Takehiro Hirose at JAMSTEC and David Castillo at Insight GeoMechanics in Australia.

###

For more information, contact Tobin at htobin@uw.edu or Saffer at demian@ig.utexas.edu.

Adapted from an article by the University of Texas at Austin.

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What keeps plant roots growing toward gravity? Study identifies four genes – hortidaily.com

What happens belowground in a corn field is easy to overlook, but corn root architecture can play an important role in water and nutrient acquisition, affecting drought tolerance, water use efficiency, and sustainability. If breeders could encourage corn roots to grow down at a steeper angle, the crop could potentially access important resources deeper in the soil.

A first step toward that goal is learning the genes involved in gravitropism and root growth in response to gravity. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Wisconsin scientists, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois, identify four such genes in corn and the model plant Arabidopsis.

When a germinating seed is turned on its side, some roots make a sudden, steep turn towards gravity, while others turn a fraction more slowly. The researchers used machine vision methods to observe subtle differences in root gravitropism in thousands of seedlings and combined that data with genetic information for each seedling. The result mapped the likely positions of gravitropism genes in the genome.

The map got the researchers to the right neighborhood in the genome – regions of a few hundred genes – but they were still a long way from identifying specific genes for gravitropism. Fortunately, they had a tool that could help.

Relevant genetics
“Because we had previously performed the same experiment with the distantly related Arabidopsis plant, we were able to match genes within the relevant regions of the genome in both species. Follow-up tests verified the identity of four genes that modify root gravitropism. The new information could help us understand how gravity shapes root system architectures,” says Edgar Spalding, professor in the Department of Botany at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the study.

Matt Hudson, professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois and study co-author, adds, “We looked at an under-researched trait in maize that is important for a number of reasons, especially in the context of climate change. And we did it by making the evolutionary differences between plants work in our favor.”

Corn and Arabidopsis, a small mustard relative, exhaustively described by plant biologists, evolved about 150 million years apart in evolutionary history. Hudson explains that although both species share basic plant functions, the genes controlling them have likely been jumbled within the genome over time. That turns out to be a good thing for narrowing down common genes.

In closely related species, genes tend to line up in approximately the same order in the genome (e.g., ABCDEF). Although the same genes might exist in distantly related species, the order of genes in the region the trait maps to doesn’t match (e.g., UGRBZ). After the researchers identified where to look in each genome, the otherwise mismatched gene sequences made the common genes (in this case, B) pop out.

“I thought it was super cool that we could identify genes we wouldn’t have found otherwise just by comparing genomic intervals in unrelated plant species,” Hudson says. “We were pretty confident they were the right genes when they popped right out of this analysis, but Spalding’s group then spent seven or eight more years getting solid biological data to verify they do, indeed, play a role in gravitropism. Having done that, I think we’ve validated the whole approach so that you could use this method for many different phenotypes in the future.”

Environment
Spalding notes the method was probably particularly successful because precise measurements were made in a common environment.

“Often, maize researchers will measure their traits of interest in a field, whereas Arabidopsis researchers tend to raise their plants in growth chambers,” he says. “We measured the root gravitropism phenotype in a highly controlled way. These seeds were grown on a petri dish, and the assay lasted just hours, as opposed to traits you might measure in the real world that are open to all sorts of variabilities.”

Even when traits can be measured in a common environment, not all traits make good candidates for this method. The researchers emphasize traits in question should be fundamental to basic plant function, ensuring the same ancient genes exist in unrelated species. 

“Gravitropism may be especially amenable to study through this approach because it would have been key to the original specialization of shoots and roots after the successful colonization of land,” Spalding says.

Hudson notes gravitropism will be key to the colonization of a different landscape, as well.

“NASA is interested in growing crops on other planets or in space, and they need to know what you’d have to breed for to do that,” he says. “Plants are pretty discombobulated without gravity.”

For more information:
University of Illinois
www.aces.illinois.edu

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Brand New Scarlet & Violet Pokémon Revealed, And It’s A Floppy One – Kotaku

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The sadly low-res video shows the little beasties popping their heads out of the sand on the beach, implying we’ve got at least a Water-type here. Multi-lingual discussion during the video has Pokécologists (everyone start using this term) question whether it’s related to Diglett, but then conclude that no, it’s a whole new species of Pokémon.

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Goodness knows what is going on in that video, with the Wingulls seemingly stuck in the air, and the background looking like it’s running on GBA.

This makes it the 16th new Pokémon unique to the Paldean region to be revealed, ahead of November’s release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Most of which have been utterly bonkers.

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Generally when The Pokémon Company reveals a new creature, we get a hint dropped like this, and then a nice press release packed with information. So be sure to check back later for an update on this post with all that extra news.

 

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Russia’s Alrosa discovers 22 new diamond deposits in Zim – Mnangagwa – New Zimbabwe.com


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By Bloomberg News


Russian miner Alrosa PSJC has discovered 22 new diamond deposits in Zimbabwe, according to the southern African nation’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Alrosa will only be allowed to work on two of the diamond deposits, while the rest will be made available to other investors, Zimbabwe’s Information Ministry said, citing comments by Mnangagwa in New York at the weekend. The president attended a business meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Russian company declined an emailed request for comment.

In 2019, Alrosa signed an agreement with the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp. to jointly explore for gems in the country. At the time, the company said it would spend $12 million exploring some of the 40 diamond mining rights it holds in the country.

Many in the diamond industry refuse to deal in Russian gems following the invasion of Ukraine and after mining giant Alrosa was hit with US sanctions.

After returning to Zimbabwe on Tuesday, Mnangagwa said there was interest from US-based investors in a number of sectors including mining and agriculture. A group of those investors will come to the country next month to look at opportunities, the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. reported.

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