We develop a theory that links stress interaction between earthquakes and the occurrence of temporal clustering. Coseismic static stress change in the vicinity (50 km) of large earthquakes suggests that perturbations of 0.1 to 1 bars may affect the occurrence of other earthquakes. At larger distances, interactions also seem to exist: four M 8 earthquakes have occurred in Mongolia on distant faults (400 km) during the last century. Also, paleoseismic observations documenting much longer time periods display a time clustering of major events. We demonstrate with simple mechanical concepts that postseismic stress relaxation magnifies the coseismic stress change and has a major effect on fault interaction during the seismic cycle. In the simple case where two distant faults are coupled, the probabilistic occurrence of triggered earthquakes may increase dramatically due to long range postseismic coupling.

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