Nature of Subduction Megathrust Faults at the Ryukyu Subduction Zone
Monday, 14 December 2015: 08:00
304 (Moscone South)
The Ryukyu subduction zone (RSZ) has been intensively examined in terms of seismic coupling along the plate boundary and tsunami potentials. On the contrary to other subduction zones nearby, such as the Nankai Trough and the Japan Trench, the RSZ has lacked clear evidence of great interplate earthquakes (M>8) for the last few hundred years and thus the overall interplate coupling is thought to be weak (Peterson and Seno, 1984). Correspondingly, geodetic observation implies that a possible coupled zone is narrow and limited to a shallow portion of the plate boundary near the trench (Ando et al., 2009). Recent seismic studies show that very low frequency earthquakes (VLFEs) are ubiquitously distributed in the forearc region of the Ryukyu arc, implying a variety of slip behaviors along the subduction faults related to fluid distribution (Nakamura and Sunagawa, 2015). However, these findings were derived from land station network and did not have sufficient resolution near the trench to determine spatial relationship of megathrust faults to the seismic activity. Since 2013 we JAMSTEC have been carrying out marine active- and passive-source seismic experiments in the Ryukyu subduction zone to reveal the fine-scale geometry and nature of subduction faults. Here we present integrated seismological evidence for megathrust fault structure and its relation to VLFEs at the southern Ryukyu Trench. Active-source seismic data consistently reveal that the plate boundary and backstop interface form a 40-km-wide frontal prism where low-velocity sedimentary rocks fill in. We find VLFEs occur around the low-velocity wedge where fluids are distributed as suggested by negative polarity in the reflection data. This forearc structure is also coincident with the source region of Yaeyama earthquake tsunami in 1771 (Nakamura, 2009), the most devastating disaster known in this region. Slow ruptures enhanced by the fluid-rich condition at the plate boundary and/or surrounding faults may be a source of VLFEs and large tsunamis.