Forearc Deformation and Great Subduction Earthquakes: Implications for Cascadia Offshore Earthquake Potential

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Science  10 Feb 1995:
Vol. 267, Issue 5199, pp. 856-859
DOI: 10.1126/science.267.5199.856


The maximum size of thrust earthquakes at the world's subduction zones appears to be limited by anelastic deformation of the overriding plate. Anelastic strain in weak forearcs and roughness of the plate interface produced by faults cutting the forearc may limit the size of thrust earthquakes by inhibiting the buildup of elastic strain energy or slip propagation or both. Recently discovered active strike-slip faults in the submarine forearc of the Cascadia subduction zone show that the upper plate there deforms rapidly in response to arc-parallel shear. Thus, Cascadia, as a result of its weak, deforming upper plate, may be the type of subduction zone at which great (moment magnitude ≈ 9) thrust earthquakes do not occur.