Are Earthquakes a Critical Phenomenon?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Osvanny Ramos, University Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, France
Earthquakes, granular avalanches, superconducting vortices, solar flares, and even stock markets are known to evolve through power-law distributed events. During decades, the formalism of equilibrium phase transition has coined these phenomena as critical, which implies that they are also unpredictable. This work revises these ideas and uses earthquakes as the paradigm to demonstrate that slowly driven systems evolving through uncorrelated and power-law distributed avalanches (UPLA) are not necessarily critical systems, and therefore not necessarily unpredictable. By linking the correlation length to the pdf of the distribution, and comparing it with the one obtained at a critical point, a condition of criticality is introduced. Simulations in the classical Olami-Feder-Christensen (OFC) earthquake model confirm the findings, showing that earthquakes are not a critical phenomenon. However, one single catastrophic earthquake may show critical properties and, paradoxically, the emergence of this temporal critical behaviour may eventually carry precursory signs of catastrophic events.