The very large slip on the shallow portion of the subduction interface during the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake (Mw 9.0) caused a huge tsunami along the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan. In order to elucidate the mechanics of such tsunamigenic slip, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 343 (Japan Trench Fast Drilling Project, JFAST), was carried out one year after the earthquake and succeeded in recovering rocks constituting the active plate boundary fault. Our mineralogical analyses using X-ray diffraction reveal that the shallow portion of the fault zone that caused the earthquake is significantly enriched in smectite compared to the surrounding sediments, which may be intimately linked to the tsunamigenic shallow faulting. For comparison, we also analyzed mineralogical features of incoming sediments just prior to subduction, recovered on the outer rise of the Japan Trench (Site 436, Deep Sea Drilling Project Leg 56), and found a characteristic smectite-rich horizon in the uppermost ∼5 m of the pelagic clay layer. This horizon should be mechanically weak and will become the future plate boundary fault, as observed in the JFAST cores. The smectite-rich deposits are broadly distributed in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and may therefore potentially enhance conditions for large shallow slip during earthquakes that occur over a broad area of the Japan Trench plate boundary, which would result in large tsunamis for this region.

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