The M 7.3 June 28, 1992 Landers and M 7.1 October 16, 1999 Hector Mine earthquakes, California, both right lateral strike-slip events on NNW-trending subvertical faults, occurred in close proximity in space and time in a region where recurrence times for surface-rupturing earthquakes are thousands of years. This suggests a causal role for the Landers earthquake in triggering the Hector Mine earthquake. Previous modeling of the static stress change associated with the Landers earthquake shows that the area of peak Hector Mine slip lies where the Coulomb failure stress promoting right-lateral strike-slip failure was high, but the nucleation point of the Hector Mine rupture was neutrally to weakly promoted, depending on the assumed coefficient of friction. Possible explanations that could account for the 7-year delay between the two ruptures include background tectonic stressing, dissipation of fluid pressure gradients, rate- and state-dependent friction effects, and post-Landers viscoelastic relaxation of the lower crust and upper mantle. By employing a viscoelastic model calibrated by geodetic data collected during the time period between the Landers and Hector Mine events, we calculate that postseismic relaxation produced a transient increase in Coulomb failure stress of about 0.7 bars on the impending Hector Mine rupture surface. The increase is greatest over the broad surface that includes the 1999 nucleation point and the site of peak slip further north. Since stress changes of magnitude greater than or equal to 0.1 bar are associated with documented causal fault interactions elsewhere, viscoelastic relaxation likely contributed to the triggering of the Hector Mine earthquake. This interpretation relies on the assumption that the faults occupying the central Mojave Desert (i.e., both the Landers and Hector Mine rupturing faults) were critically stressed just prior to the Landers earthquake.

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