When structural geologist Richard Allmendinger took a trip to northern Chile with his graduate students, he wasn't expecting to make an earth-shattering discovery--literally.
New research by the group, to be published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that earthquakes can permanently crack our planet. While the Earth's crust typically bounces back from earthquakes, that appears not to be the case of bigger quakes.
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"It is only in a place like the Atacama Desert [in Chile] that these cracks can be observed — in all other places, surface processes erase them within days or weeks of their formation, but in the Atacama, they are preserved for millions of years," Allmendinger told LiveScience. "We have every reason to believe that our results would be applicable to other areas, but is simply not preserved for study the way that it is in the Atacama Desert," he added.
Chile is especially prone to earthquakes. Almost three years ago, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake caused a massive tsunami that killed hundreds in south-central Chile.