Persistent water level changes in a well near Parkfield, California, due to local and distant earthquakes

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth


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Coseismic water level rises in the 30-m deep Bourdieu Valley (BV) well near Parkfield, California, have occurred in response to three local and five distant earthquakes. Coseismic changes in static strain cannot explain these water level rises because (1) the well is insensitive to strain at tidal periods; (2) for the distant earthquakes, the expected coseismic static strain is extremely small; and (3) the water level response is of the incorrect sign for the local earthquakes. These water level changes must therefore be caused by seismic waves, but unlike seismic water level oscillations, they are monotonic, persist for days or weeks, and seem to be caused by waves with periods of several seconds rather than long-period surface waves. Other investigators have reported a similar phenomenon in Japan. Certain wells consistently exhibit this type of coseismic water level change, which is always in the same direction, regardless of the earthquake's azimuth or focal mechanism, and approximately proportional to the inverse square of hypocentral distance. To date, the coseismic water level rises in the BV well have never exceeded the seasonal water level maximum, although their sizes are relatively well correlated with earthquake magnitude and distance. The frequency independence of the well's response to barometric pressure in the frequency band 0.1 to 0.7 cpd implies that the aquifer is fairly well confined. High aquifer compressibility, probably due to a gas phase in the pore space, is the most likely reason why the well does not respond to Earth tides. The phase and amplitude relationships between the seasonal water level and precipitation cycles constrain the horizontal hydraulic diffusivity to within a factor of 4.5, bounding hypothetical earthquake-induced changes in aquifer hydraulic properties. Moreover, changes of hydraulic conductivity and/or diffusivity throughout the aquifer would not be expected to change the water level in the same direction at every time of the year. The first 2.5 days of a typical coseismic water level rise could be caused by a small coseismic discharge decrease at a point several tens of meters from the well. Alternatively, the entire coseismic water level signal could represent diffusion of an abrupt coseismic pore pressure increase within several meters of the well, produced by a mechanism akin to that of liquefaction. The coseismic water level changes in the BV well resemble, and may share a mechanism with, coseismic water level, stream discharge, and groundwater temperature changes at other locations where preearthquake changes have also been reported. No preearthquake changes have been observed at the BV well site, however.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Persistent water level changes in a well near Parkfield, California, due to local and distant earthquakes
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
Volume 103
Issue 1
Year Published 1998
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
First page 869
Last page 889
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