Modeling coupled avulsion and earthquake timescale dynamics

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Meredith D Reitz1, Michael S Steckler2, Chris Paola3 and Leonardo Seeber2, (1)USGS Headquarters, Reston, VA, United States, (2)Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs, Palisades, NY, United States, (3)Univ Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, United States
River avulsions and earthquakes can be hazardous events, and many researchers work to better understand and predict their timescales. Improvements in the understanding of the intrinsic processes of deposition and strain accumulation that lead to these events have resulted in better constraints on the timescales of each process individually. There are however several mechanisms by which these two systems may plausibly become linked. River deposition and avulsion can affect the stress on underlying faults through differential loading by sediment or water. Conversely, earthquakes can affect river avulsion patterns through altering the topography. These interactions may alter the event recurrence timescales, but this dynamic has not yet been explored. We present results of a simple numerical model, in which two systems have intrinsic rates of approach to failure thresholds, but the state of one system contributes to the other’s approach to failure through coupling functions. The model is first explored for the simplest case of two linear approaches to failure, and linearly proportional coupling terms. Intriguing coupling dynamics emerge: the system settles into cycles of repeating earthquake and avulsion timescales, which are approached at an exponential decay rate that depends on the coupling terms. The ratio of the number of events of each type and the timescale values also depend on the coupling coefficients and the threshold values. We then adapt the model to a more complex and realistic scenario, in which a river avulses between either side of a fault, with parameters corresponding to the Brahmaputra River / Dauki fault system in Bangladesh. Here the tectonic activity alters the topography by gradually subsiding during the interseismic time, and abruptly increasing during an earthquake. The river strengthens the fault by sediment loading when in one path, and weakens it when in the other. We show this coupling can significantly affect earthquake and avulsion recurrence times. We also find a significant probability of event co-occurrence, where avulsions are induced by earthquakes. This model sets up a framework for the study of earthquakes and avulsions as a coupled dynamical system, and shows the importance of understanding this dynamic for prediction of hazard recurrence intervals.