A real-time cabled observatory on the Cascadia subduction zone
Abstract:Subduction zones are replete with mystery and rife with hazard. Along most of the Pacific Northwest margin, the traditional methods of monitoring offshore geophysical activity use onshore sensors or involve conducting infrequent oceanographic expeditions. This results in a limited capacity for detecting and monitoring subduction processes offshore. We propose that the next step in geophysical observations of Cascadia should include real-time data delivered by a seafloor cable with seismic, geodetic, and pressure-sensing instruments.
Along the Cascadia subduction zone, we need to monitor deformation, earthquakes, and fluid fluxes on short time scales. High-quality long-term time series are needed to establish baseline observations and evaluate secular changes in the subduction environment. Currently we lack a basic knowledge of the plate convergence rate, direction and its variations along strike and of how convergence is accommodated across the plate boundary. We also would like to seek cycles of microseismicity, how far locking extends up-dip, and the transient processes (i.e., fluid pulsing, tremor, and slow slip) that occur near the trench.
For reducing risk to society, real-time monitoring has great benefit for immediate and accurate assessment through earthquake early warning systems. Specifically, the improvement to early warning would be in assessing the location, geometry, and progression of ongoing faulting and obtaining an accurate tsunami warning, as well as simply speeding up the early warning. It would also be valuable to detect strain transients and map the locked portion of the megathrust, and detect changes in locking over the earthquake cycle.
Development of the US portion of a real-time cabled seismic and geodetic observatory should build upon the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s cabled array, which was recently completed and is currently delivering continuous seismic and pressure data from the seafloor. Its implementation would require substantial initial and ongoing investments from federal and state governments, private partners and the academic community but would constitute a critical resource in mitigating the hazard both through improved earthquake and tsunami warning and an enhanced scientific understanding of subduction processes in Cascadia.