Abstract

Major strike-slip earthquakes recently occurred in Alaska on the central Denali fault (M 7.9) on 3 November 2002, and in Tibet on the central Kunlun fault (M 7.8) on 14 November 2001. Both earthquakes generated large surface waves with MS [U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)] of 8.5 (Denali) and 8.0 (Kunlun). Each event occurred on an east–west-trending strike-slip fault situated near the northern boundary of an intense deformation zone that is characterized by lateral extrusion and rotation of crustal blocks. Each earthquake produced east-directed nearly unilateral ruptures that propagated 300 to 400 km. Maximum lateral surface offsets and maximum moment release occurred well beyond 100 km from the rupture initiation, with the events exhibiting by far the largest separations of USGS hypocenter and Harvard Moment Tensor Centroid (CMT) for strike-slip earthquakes in the 27-year CMT catalog. In each sequence, the largest aftershock was more than two orders of magnitude smaller than the mainshock. Regional moment release had been accelerating prior to the main shocks. The close proximity in space and time of the 1964 Prince William Sound and 2002 Denali earthquakes, relative to their rupture lengths and estimated return times, suggests that these events may be part of a recurrent cluster in the vicinity of a complex plate boundary.

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