Seismic Structure in Southern Peru: Evidence for a Smooth Contortion Between Flat and Normal Subduction of the Nazca Plate

Friday, 19 December 2014: 2:55 PM
Sara L Dougherty and Robert W Clayton, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, United States
Rapid changes in slab geometry are typically associated with fragmentation of the subducted plate; however, continuous curvature of the slab is also possible. The transition from flat to normal subduction in southern Peru is one such geometrical change, where previous studies have suggested both tearing and continuity of the slab. The morphology of the subducted Nazca plate along this transition is further explored here using intraslab earthquakes recorded by temporary regional seismic arrays. Observations of a gradual increase in slab dip coupled with a lack of any gaps or vertical offsets in the intraslab seismicity suggest a smooth contortion of the slab. Concentrations of focal mechanisms at orientations which are indicative of slab bending are also observed along the change in slab geometry. The presence of a thin ultra-slow velocity layer (USL) atop the horizontal Nazca slab is identified and located. The lateral extent of this USL is coincident with the margin of the projected linear continuation of the subducting Nazca Ridge, implying a causal relationship. Waveform modeling of the 2D structure in southern Peru using a finite-difference algorithm provides constraints on the velocity and geometry of the slab’s seismic structure and confirms the absence of any tears in the slab. The seismic and structural evidence suggests smooth contortion of the Nazca plate along the transition from flat to normal subduction. The slab is estimated to have experienced 10% strain in the along-strike direction across this transition, compared to 15% strain across flat-to-normal transitions in central Mexico where the Cocos slab is likely torn.