Depth of focus (tectonics)
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In seismology, the depth of focus or focal depth refers to the depth at which an earthquake occurs. Earthquakes occurring at a depth of less than 70 km (43 mi) are classified as shallow-focus earthquakes, while those with a focal depth between 70 km (43 mi) and 300 km (190 mi) are commonly termed mid-focus or intermediate-depth earthquakes. In subduction zones, where older and colder oceanic crust descends beneath another tectonic plate, deep-focus earthquakes may occur at much greater depths in the mantle, ranging from 300 km (190 mi) up to 700 km (430 mi).
The cause of deep-focus earthquakes is still not entirely understood since subducted lithosphere at that pressure and temperature regime should not exhibit brittle behavior. A possible mechanism for the generation of deep-focus earthquakes is faulting caused by olivine undergoing a phase transition into a spinel structure, with which they are believed to be associated. Earthquakes at this depth of focus typically occur at oceanic-continental convergent boundaries, along Wadati–Benioff zones.
The evidence for deep-focus earthquakes was discovered in 1922 by H.H. Turner of Oxford, England. Previously, all earthquakes were considered to have shallow focal depths. The existence of deep-focus earthquakes was confirmed in 1931 from studies of the seismograms of several earthquakes, which in turn led to the construction of travel-time curves for intermediate and deep earthquakes.
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