Ductile Faults Control Seismogenic Movement on Oceanic Transforms

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Gordon Stuart Lister1, Hrvoje Tkalcic2, Margaret (Marnie) Anne Forster3 and Simon McClusky3, (1)Australian National University, Research School of Earth Sciences, Canberra, Australia, (2)Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia, (3)Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Structural Geology is about 3D geometry and the symphony of kinematically-coordinated movement. In this case we discuss patterns of violent relative displacement inferred from focal plane data for earthquakes. Systematic stereographic analysis of centroid moment tensor data often shows well-defined orientation groups in scatterplots of fault plane normals and associated slip line vectors. These allow important geodynamic inferences, e.g., we can show that ductile faults control the geometry of oceanic transforms, and that normal fault earthquakes on spreading ridges are usually skewed with respect to adjacent transform faults. To explain this asymmetry requires finite rock strength, but it also means that it is not brittle failure that controls the orientation of oceanic transforms. This asymmetry also requires formation of tilt block geometries reminiscent of Basin-and-Range-style continental extension, systematic offset of earthquake hypocentres from the spreading ridge, and a general complexity in magma-fault interactions that is far beyond what might be expected if ocean-floor spreading is the result of dilating tension-mode fractures in dyke swarms. The role of ductile faulting should be given special mention because mostly it is argued that brittle faults are responsible for earthquakes. Yet many other examples of ductile faults in operation can be inferred, e.g., ductile faults associated with slab drop-off, where slab boudinage leads to extensional ductile faults and seismic activity driven by the pulling away of a relict slab, e.g., beneath the Hindu Kush. Another example might be found by close examination of the tectonic significance of the lowermost of the double (or paired) seismic zones such as can be seen in cross-sections of the subducting slab beneath Japan. The lowermost of the paired seismic zones may mark the locus of aseismic ductile shears or detachments formed by slumping of gigantic sheets of rock attempting to slide down the face of actively subducting slabs. Seismogenic activity may be driven by ductile faulting (again related to boudinage) of the relatively strong sheet of the subducting slab overlying this movement zone. The role of ductile faulting has been undervalued in earthquake generation, and this data suggests revision of seismotectonic doctrines may be necessary.