Natural Hazards in El Salvador
Seismicity and tectonics of El Salvador
Published:January 01, 2004
James W. Dewey, Randall A. White, Douglas A. Hernández, 2004. "Seismicity and tectonics of El Salvador", Natural Hazards in El Salvador, William I. Rose, Julian J. Bommer, Dina L. López, Michael J. Carr, Jon J. Major
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The large-scale plate-tectonics framework of El Salvador was defined in the “plate-tectonics revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s, but important issues related to seismic hazards depend on details that have been only recently, or are not yet, understood. Present evidence suggests that coupling across the interface-thrust zone beneath coastal El Salvador is sufficient to produce occasional interface-thrust earthquakes as large as M ∼8. The rate of such earthquakes is determined by the percentage of relative plate motion that is accumulated as elastic strain on the thrust-fault interface between the Cocos and Caribbean plates, which appears to be lower than in many other subduction zones, but is not well established. Earthquakes in the interior of the Cocos plate, such as the El Salvador earthquake of January 13, 2001, account for a significant percentage of Wadati-Benioff zone earthquakes. Separate consideration of the seismic hazard posed by, respectively, Cocos intraplate earthquakes and interface-thrust earthquakes is complicated by the difficulty of separating interface-thrust and Cocos intraplate events in earthquake catalogs. Earthquakes such as the San Vicente–San Salvador sequence of February 13–25, 2001, probably result from the motion of the Central American forearc northwestward with respect to the interior of the Caribbean plate; the geometry of the fault systems that accommodate the motion remains to be worked out. Understanding of this tectonic complexity and associated seismic hazards will be facilitated greatly by the long-term operation of high-sensitivity local seismograph networks, such as that operated by, and currently being upgraded by, the Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales (SNET) of El Salvador.