Geodetic Evidence of Post-2011 Acceleration of the Pacific Plate

Monday, 15 December 2014
Kosuke Heki, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan and Yuta Mitsui, Shizuoka University, Shizuoka, Japan
Oceanic plates may accelerate after large inter-plate earthquakes (Anderson, Science 1975). This was indirectly substantiated by Heki and Mitsui (EPSL 2013), who analyzed crustal deformation of an island arc after megathrust earthquakes. Here we show direct evidence of postseismic acceleration of the Pacific Plate from the data of a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) station on the Minami-torishima (Marcus) Island ~2000 km off the Pacific coast of Japan.

Heki and Mitsui (2013) found the enhancement of the inter-plate coupling in NE Japan on segments adjacent to those ruptured in the 2003 Tokachi-Oki (Mw8.0) and the 2011 Tohoku-Oki (Mw9.0) earthquakes. They inferred that the subduction of the Pacific Plate slab significantly accelerated after these earthquakes. During interseismic periods, the balance between the down-dip (slab pull and ridge push) and up-dip (viscous traction and interplate coupling) forces realizes convergence rate constant over geological timescales. A megathrust event reduces interplate coupling, and the down-dip forces temporarily exceed the other. The accelerated subduction realizes under the new balance and continues until the interplate coupling recovers.

In the Marcus Island, the closest island on the Pacific Plate to the Japan Trench, continuous GNSS observations started in 2002, and showed linear movement toward WNW of ~7.7 cm/year (in the nnr-NUVEL1 frame). This station showed coseismic jump of ~1 cm toward the epicenter in the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake. At the same time, the velocity showed distinct increase of ~10 percent without changing the azimuth, resulting in post-2011 speed of ~8.5 cm/year. This is difficult to explain with a simple postseismic viscous relaxation in a stratified earth, and would be the direct evidence of the postseismic acceleration of the Pacific Plate. Such an acceleration is, however, not seen in Hawaii, ~6000 km away from the fault.