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Recurring and triggered slow-slip events near the trench at the Nankai Trough subduction megathrust

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Science  16 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6343, pp. 1157-1160
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan3120

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Silently taking up the slack

Megathrust earthquakes occur when locked subduction zone faults suddenly slip, unleashing shaking and causing tsunamis. However, seismically silent slow earthquakes also relieve slip on these dangerous faults. Araki et al. present data from ocean boreholes with which they analyze eight slow-slip events near the Nankai trench off the coast of Japan. These events accommodated up to half of the plate convergence over 6 years. The events appear to occur regularly, which has a long-term impact on hazard assessment for the region.

Science, this issue p. 1157

Abstract

The discovery of slow earthquakes has revolutionized the field of earthquake seismology. Defining the locations of these events and the conditions that favor their occurrence provides important insights into the slip behavior of tectonic faults. We report on a family of recurring slow-slip events (SSEs) on the plate interface immediately seaward of repeated historical moment magnitude (Mw) 8 earthquake rupture areas offshore of Japan. The SSEs continue for days to several weeks, include both spontaneous and triggered slip, recur every 8 to 15 months, and are accompanied by swarms of low-frequency tremors. We can explain the SSEs with 1 to 4 centimeters of slip along the megathrust, centered 25 to 35 kilometers (km) from the trench (4 to 10 km depth). The SSEs accommodate 30 to 55% of the plate motion, indicating frequent release of accumulated strain near the trench.

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