Seafloor Geodetic Monitoring of the Central Andean Subduction Zone: The Geosea Array

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Heidrun Kopp1, Dietrich Lange1, Eduardo Contreras Reyes2, Jan H Behrmann1, Jeffrey Joseph McGuire3 and Ernst R Flueh1, (1)GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany, (2)Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile, (3)WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States
Seafloor geodesy has been identified as one of the central tools in marine geosciences to monitor seafloor deformation at high resolution. To quantify strain accumulation and assess the resultant hazard potential we urgently need systems to resolve seafloor crustal deformation.

The GeoSEA (Geodetic Earthquake Observatory on the Seafloor) array consists of a seafloor transponder network comprising a total of 35 units and a wave glider acting as a surface unit (GeoSURF) to ensure satellite correspondence, data transfer and monitor system health.

For horizontal direct path measurements, the system utilizes acoustic ranging techniques with a ranging precision better than 15 mm and long term stability over 2 km distance. Vertical motion is obtained from pressure gauges. Integrated inclinometers monitor station settlement in two horizontal directions. Travel time between instruments and the local water sound velocity will be recorded autonomously subsea without system or human intervention for up to 3.5 years. Data from the autonomous network on the seafloor can be retrieved via the integrated high-speed acoustic telemetry link without recovering the seafloor units.

In late 2015 GeoSEA will be installed on the Iquique segment of the South America – Nazca convergent plate boundary to monitor crustal deformation. The Iquique seismic gap experienced the 2014 Mw 8.1 Pisagua earthquake, which apparently occurred within a local locking minimum. It is thus crucial to better resolve resolve strain in the forearc between the mainland and the trench in order to improve our understanding of forearc deformation required for hazard assessment. Mobile autonomous seafloor arrays for continuous measurement of active seafloor deformation in hazard zones have the potential to lead to transformative discoveries of plate boundary/fault zone tectonic processes and address a novel element of marine geophysical research.