Coseismic landslides are observed in higher concentrations around surface-rupturing faults. This observation has been attributed to a combination of stronger ground motions and increased rock mass damage closer to faults. Past work has shown it is difficult to separate the influences of rock mass damage from strong ground motions on landslide occurrence. We measured coseismic off-fault deformation (OFD) zone widths (treating them as a proxy for areas of more intense rock mass damage) using high-resolution, three-dimensional surface displacements from the 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake in New Zealand. OFD zones vary in width from ~50 m to 1500 m over the ~180 km length of ruptures analyzed. Using landslide densities from a database of 29,557 Kaikōura landslides, we demonstrate that our OFD zone captures a higher density of coseismic landslide incidence than generic “distance to fault rupture” within ~650 m of surface fault ruptures. This result suggests that the effects of rock mass damage within OFD zones (including ground motions from trapped and amplified seismic waves) may contribute to near-fault coseismic landslide occurrence in addition to the influence of regional ground motions, which attenuate with distance from the fault. The OFD zone represents a new path toward understanding, and planning for, the distribution of coseismic landslides around surface fault ruptures. Inclusion of estimates of fault zone width may improve landslide susceptibility models and decrease landslide risk.

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