Subduction zone megathrust faults host Earth’s largest earthquakes, along with multitudes of smaller events that contribute to plate convergence. An understanding of the faulting behavior of megathrusts is central to seismic and tsunami hazard assessment around subduction zone margins. Cumulative sliding displacement across each megathrust, which extends from the trench to the downdip transition to interplate ductile deformation, is accommodated by a combination of rapid stick-slip earthquakes, episodic slow-slip events, and quasi-static creep. Megathrust faults have heterogeneous frictional properties that contribute to earthquake diversity, which is considered here in terms of regional variations in maximum recorded magnitudes, Gutenberg-Richter b values, earthquake productivity, and cumulative seismic moment depth distributions for the major subduction zones. Great earthquakes on megathrusts occur in irregular cycles of interseismic strain accumulation, foreshock activity, main-shock rupture, postseismic slip, viscoelastic relaxation, and fault healing, with all stages now being captured by geophysical monitoring. Observations of depth-dependent radiation characteristics, large earthquake slip distributions, variations in rupture velocities, radiated energy and stress drop, and relationships to aftershock distributions and afterslip are discussed. Seismic sequences for very large events have some degree of regularity within subduction zone segments, but this can be complicated by supercycles of intermittent huge ruptures that traverse segment boundaries. Factors influencing variability of large megathrust ruptures, such as large-scale plate structure and kinematics, presence of sediments and fluids, lower-plate bathymetric roughness, and upper-plate structure, are discussed. The diversity of megathrust failure processes presents a suite of natural hazards, including earthquake shaking, submarine slumping, and tsunami generation. Improved monitoring of the offshore environment is needed to better quantify and mitigate the threats posed by megathrust earthquakes globally.
Research Article|July 06, 2018
Subduction zone megathrust earthquakes
Susan L. Bilek