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India plans mini-lab 8km underground

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 a 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 sometime, 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.

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