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The Aftershock Signature of Supershear Earthquakes

Science  06 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5881, pp. 1323-1325
DOI: 10.1126/science.1155030

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Abstract

Recent studies show that earthquake faults may rupture at speeds exceeding the shear wave velocity of rocks. This supershear rupture produces in the ground a seismic shock wave similar to the sonic boom produced by a supersonic airplane. This shock wave may increase the destruction caused by the earthquake. We report that supershear earthquakes are characterized by a specific pattern of aftershocks: The fault plane itself is remarkably quiet whereas aftershocks cluster off the fault, on secondary structures that are activated by the supershear rupture. The post-earthquake quiescence of the fault shows that friction is relatively uniform over supershear segments, whereas the activation of off-fault structures is explained by the shock wave radiation, which produces high stresses over a wide zone surrounding the fault.

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