Megathrust earthquake behavior in subduction zones is controlled by a variety of factors including the hydration state of the subducting slab. Increased hydration reduces the occurrence of great, damaging earthquakes by diminishing the strength of the material along the interface between tectonic plates. Understanding variations in hydration in subductions zones is necessary for properly assessing the overall hazard posed by each region. Fortunately, seismic anisotropy is strongly dependent upon hydration of the subducting crust and lithosphere. I present shear-wave splitting measurements that illuminate changes in anisotropy, and therefore hydration, of the subducting Pacific plate beneath the Alaska subduction zone (northern Pacific Ocean). Variations in shear-wave splitting directly correlate to changes in the behavior of great, megathrust earthquakes. My measurements show that the Shumagin seismic gap is characterized by a hydrated subducting slab, explaining the long-term lack of great earthquakes. Observations in the immediately adjacent Semidi segment, which experiences great events regularly, indicate a far less hydrated slab. These results are driven by the preferential alignment of paleo-spreading fabrics of the Pacific plate. Where fabrics are more closely aligned with the orientation of the trench, outer-rise faulting and plate hydration is enhanced. These results highlight the importance of changes in preexisting slab structures and subsequent hydration in the production of great, damaging earthquakes.

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