India’s underground mini-lab to study quakes

Indian scientists are planning a mini-lab 8 Kms underground at Koyna region in Maharashtra.

Last Updated: Jan 05, 2011, 18:18 PM IST

Chennai: Making an ambitious attempt to
study earthquakes, a team led by Indian scientists is planning
to have a mini-lab eight kilometres underground at the
seismically active Koyna region in Maharashtra.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in this regard is
expected to be signed between the Ministry of Earth Sciences
and the Germany-based International Continental Drilling
Programme (ICDP) on Friday in New Delhi.

Under the project pegged at about Rs 350 crore,
scientists are planning to drill a bore-hole up to eight
kilometres deep near the Koyna Dam in Maharashtra.

"Koyna is a region where earthquakes occur in a 20km X
20 km area. Placing seismic monitors here would help us
observe what happens before, during and after an earthquake,"
Shailesh Nayak, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences said on
the sidelines of the 98th Indian Science Congress.

At the deepest point of 8 km, the bore-hole would be no
more than five inches in circumference, he said, adding that
seismic sensors will be placed at two locations.

"We do not know what happens before, during and after
the earthquake. The same was the condition with cyclones till
we launched the earth observation satellites," Nayak said.

This is not the first time such an experiment is being
undertaken. A similar project has been undertaken in
California in the US at the San Andreas Faultline.

However, the region has not seen any major earthquake
for quite some time, Nayak said.

Another exercise was carried out in Mexico to study The
Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) impact which is thought to have led
to one of the greatest mass extinctions in Earth history,
including dinosaur extinction.

An international workshop of scientists has been
convened in India in March by the Ministry of Earth Sciences
to finalise the science plan for the project.

The Koyna region, which is home to a large hydel
project, is a highly active seismic zone and would provide
scientists an opportunity to study earthquakes more closely in
real-time and also help them in looking for precursors or
warning signals to a coming earthquake.

Scientists believe that the seismicity associated with
the Koyna reservoir was unique in the world as it is one of
the few sites where earthquakes of magnitude greater than five
continue to occur even four decades after the initial spurt of
activity in 1967.

The actual programme for the project will be charted out
based on the recommendations of the international workshop,
and the drilling exercise in itself is expected to begin next
year.

Though geologists have monitored the various fault lines
that run across India as well as the rate at which internal
pressure builds up in them (and triggering earthquakes), they
haven`t developed systematic models to bet on specific
tremors.

PTI