Slow slip near the trench at the Hikurangi subduction zone, New Zealand

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Science  06 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6286, pp. 701-704
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2349

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Applying pressure to plate tectonics

The full range of deformation behavior of subduction zone faults that are responsible for great earthquakes and tsunamis is now clearer. Wallace et al. observed the heave of the ocean floor near the Hikurangi trench, off the east coast of New Zealand, with a network of absolute pressure gauges (see the Perspective by Tréhu). The gauges sit on the ocean floor and detect changes in pressure generated from slow-slip deformation events. Detailed geodetic observation of deformation events will finally clarify the role that such aseismic events play at major plate boundaries.

Science, this issue p. 701; see also p. 654


The range of fault slip behaviors near the trench at subduction plate boundaries is critical to know, as this is where the world’s largest, most damaging tsunamis are generated. Our knowledge of these behaviors has remained largely incomplete, partially due to the challenging nature of crustal deformation measurements at offshore plate boundaries. Here we present detailed seafloor deformation observations made during an offshore slow-slip event (SSE) in September and October 2014, using a network of absolute pressure gauges deployed at the Hikurangi subduction margin offshore New Zealand. These data show the distribution of vertical seafloor deformation during the SSE and reveal direct evidence for SSEs occurring close to the trench (within 2 kilometers of the seafloor), where very low temperatures and pressures exist.

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