Seismic Cycle Variability in Space and Time: The Sumatran Sunda Megathrust as a Behavior Catalog
Abstract:Thanks to the great success of the coral microatoll technique for paleoseismology and paleogeodesy, as well as many recent ruptures, the Sumatran Sunda megathrust has emerged from obscurity to become one of the best-studied faults in the world. Though the reliable historical record is short compared to other areas such as Japan or South America, seismic cycle deformation with high spatial resolution has been reconstructed over multiple cycles based on coral records. This unique level of detail has revealed many complexities that would be difficult to discern using other methods. Some of these features may be specific to the Sumatran case, but it is likely that many other subduction megathrusts and other fault systems exhibit similar behaviors.
The low elevations of Holocene corals throughout the outer arc islands indicate little or no active permanent upper plate deformation, suggesting that the Sunda megathrust behaves almost purely elastically. At first order, the fault behavior is well-described by the classical model of fault segmentation with quasi-periodic characteristic ruptures along each segment. Two well-defined segment boundaries, barriers to rupture that persist over multiple seismic cycles, have been identified. However, within each segment there are potentially multiple fault asperities that may rupture individually or combine to form larger events. The Nias-Simeulue segment is relatively short and appears dominated by single end-to-end ruptures, while the longer Mentawai segment characteristically exhibits supercycles. In the supercycle case, each long interseismic period culminates in a temporal cluster of partially overlapping ruptures that in summation relieve stress over the entire segment. Each rupture sequence in our record evolved uniquely, likely indicating that fault slip is controlled by variations in fault frictional properties at spatial scales of ~100 km and temporal scales of a decade. The megathrust is also segmented along dip: the very shallow portions also occasionally rupture seismically, though less frequently than the primary seismogenic area. This patchwork of frictional properties, presumably rooted in structure and rheology along the fault interface, ultimately produces both the short-term rupture variability and the longer-term segmentation we observe.