Relationships between Slow Slip and Earthquakes at the Brittle-Ductile Transition of Subduction Zones
Monday, 15 December 2014
Following the discovery of episodic tremor and slip, one of the key questions raised is whether the phenomena can be a harbinger of megathrust earthquakes. Several recent large subduction earthquakes have provided an opportunity to investigate this question. The March 20, 2012 Mw 7.4 Ometepec earthquake in southern Mexico represents one such opportunity as it occurred in an area with a joint seismic and geodetic network in the source region that can examine whether patterns in the episodic tremor and slip were related to the earthquake. GPS data indicate that a 5-month-long slow slip episode (SSE) migrated toward and reached the vicinity of the mainshock source zone a few weeks before the earthquake. With multi-station waveform matching of templates constructed from visible aftershock signals, we find an increase in seismic activity during the SSE. The fault patches represented by these templates fill in the gap between the earthquake epicenter and the primary SSE. Analysis of other seismic swarms in Oaxaca near the down-dip end of the seismogenic zone with multi-station template matching also shows an increase in seismicity during SSEs. This evidence adds to a growing number of published accounts that indicate slow slip, whether geodetically or seismically inferred, is becoming a more commonly observed pre-earthquake signature. We use RSQSim earthquake simulations to model these scenarios using a subduction interface with a shallow seismogenic zone, deep SSE zone, and a microseismicity zone in between. Simulations where the microseismicity zone is assigned varying effective normal stresses and slip speeds over small distances generate cases in which microseismicity primarily occurs when a SSE migrates up-dip to the point enough stress is transferred to nucleate an earthquake on elements with a higher effective normal stress. Together these observations support the notion that SSE can trigger traditional earthquakes, not just tremor and low-frequency earthquakes.