Coseismic Surface Cracks Produced By the Mw8.1 Pisagua Earthquake Sequence

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 2:55 PM
Richard W Allmendinger1, Chelsea P Scott1, Gabriel Gonzalez2,3 and John P Loveless4, (1)Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States, (2)Universidad Católica del Norte, Department of Geological Sciences, Antofagasta, Chile, (3)National Research Center for Integrated Disaster Management (RCINDIM/CIGIDEN), Santiago, Chile, (4)Smith College, Northampton, MA, United States
The April 1, 2014 Mw8.1 Pisagua earthquake filled a relatively small part of the Iquique Gap, a segment of the the Nazca-South America plate boundary that had not experienced a great earthquake since 1877. The slip maximum for the event occurred south of the hypocenter offshore of the village of Pisagua. To document the permanent surface deformation, we measured more than 3,700 co- or post seismic cracks, spanning 220 km of coast length, during three field excursions 2 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months after the main shock. Thanks to the hyperarid climate of the region, many fresh cracks are still visible 3.5 months after the main event but eolian processes and sloughing of the side-walls are rapidly obscuring these fragile features.

The distribution of crack strikes is noisy for several reasons: (1) the vast majority of new cracks reactivated pre-existing cracks in many cases with less than ideal orientations; (2) both the April 1 main shock and the April 2 Mw7.7 aftershock 70 km to the south probably produced cracks; (3) several smaller crustal aftershocks occurred on EW reverse faults and may have enhanced cracking on EW scarps; and (4) cracking is locally enhanced along sharp topographic features. Nonetheless, there is a tendency for NNE striking cracks S of the slip maximum and NNW cracks to the north. We measured crack aperture and calculate strain in transects of 500-1000 m length at 3 localities along the earthquake rupture length. Those close to the slip maximum have permanent coseismic extensional strains on the order of 1e-4 and even a site 60 km S of the Mw7.7 event has crack strain of 5e-5. These strains are not homogenous, but diminish eastward.

These data indicate that surface cracking caused by any one event utilizes the most suitably pre-existing weaknesses, Presumably, over time earthquakes with similar slip characteristics will add constructively in the geological record to produce a crack population characteristic of the long term average earthquake in the region.