Water-level changes induced by local and distant earthquakes at Long Valley caldera, California

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
By: , and 



Distant as well as local earthquakes have induced groundwater-level changes persisting for days to weeks at Long Valley caldera, California. Four wells open to formations as deep as 300 m have responded to 16 earthquakes, and responses to two earthquakes in the 3-km-deep Long Valley Exploratory Well (LVEW) show that these changes are not limited to weathered or unconsolidated near-surface rocks. All five wells exhibit water-level variations in response to earth tides, indicating they can be used as low-resolution strainmeters. Earthquakes induce gradual water-level changes that increase in amplitude for as long as 30 days, then return more slowly to pre-earthquake levels. The gradual water-level changes are always drops at wells LKT, LVEW, and CH-10B, and always rises at well CW-3. At a dilatometer just outside the caldera, earthquake-induced strain responses consist of either a step followed by a contractional strain-rate increase, or a transient contractional signal that reaches a maximum in about seven days and then returns toward the pre-earthquake value. The sizes of the gradual water-level changes generally increase with earthquake magnitude and decrease with hypocentral distance. Local earthquakes in Long Valley produce coseismic water-level steps; otherwise the responses to local earthquakes and distant earthquakes are indistinguishable. In particular, water-level and strain changes in Long Valley following the 1992 M7.3 Landers earthquake, 450 km distant, closely resemble those initiated by a M4.9 local earthquake on November 22, 1997, during a seismic swarm with features indicative of fluid involvement. At the LKT well, many of the response time histories are identical for 20 days after each earthquake, and can be matched by a theoretical solution giving the pore pressure as a function of time due to diffusion of a nearby, instantaneous, pressure drop. Such pressure drops could be produced by accelerated inflation of the resurgent dome by amounts too small to be detected by the two-color electronic distance-measuring network. Opening-mode displacement in the south moat, inferred to have followed a M4.9 earthquake on November 22, 1997, could also create extensional strain on the dome and lead to water-level changes similar to those following dome inflation. Contractional strain that could account for earthquake-induced water-level rises at the CW-3 well is inconsistent with geodetic observations. We instead attribute these water-level rises to diffusion of elevated fluid pressure localized in the south moat thermal aquifer. For hydraulic diffusivities appropriate to the upper few hundred meters at Long Valley, an influx of material at temperatures of 300°C can thermally generate pressure of 6 m of water or more, an order of magnitude larger than needed to account for the CW-3 water-level rises. If magma or hot aqueous fluid rises to within 1 km of the surface in the eastern part of the south moat, then hydraulic diffusivities are high enough to allow fluid pressure to propagate to CW-3 on the time scale observed. The data indicate that seismic waves from large distant earthquakes can stimulate upward movement of fluid in the hydrothermal system at Long Valley.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Water-level changes induced by local and distant earthquakes at Long Valley caldera, California
Series title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
DOI 10.1016/S0377-0273(03)00173-2
Volume p.
Issue 3-4
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center, Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center
Description 35 p.
First page 269
Last page 303
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Long Valley Caldera
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