Seismicity of the Incoming Plate and Forearc Near the Mariana Trench Recorded by Ocean Bottom Seismographs

TitleSeismicity of the Incoming Plate and Forearc Near the Mariana Trench Recorded by Ocean Bottom Seismographs
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsEimer, M, Wiens, DA, Cai, C, Lizarralde, D, Jasperson, H
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Date Published04/2020

Earthquakes near oceanic trenches are important for studying incoming plate bending and updip thrust zone seismogenesis, yet are poorly constrained using seismographs on land. We use an ocean bottom seismograph (OBS) deployment spanning both the incoming Pacific Plate and the forearc to study seismicity near the Mariana Trench. The yearlong deployment in 2012–2013 consisted of 20 broadband OBSs and 5 suspended hydrophones, with an additional 59 short period OBSs and hydrophones recording for 1 month. We locate 1,692 earthquakes using a nonlinear method with a 3D velocity model constructed from active source profiles and surface wave tomography results. Events occurring seaward of the trench occur to depths of 35 km below the seafloor, and focal mechanisms of the larger events indicate normal faulting corresponding to plate bending. Significant seismicity emerges about 70 km seaward from the trench, and the seismicity rate increases continuously towards the trench, indicating that the largest bending deformation occurs near the trench axis. These plate-bending earthquakes occur along faults that facilitate the hydration of the subducting plate, and the lateral and depth distribution of earthquakes is consistent with low-velocity regions imaged in previous studies. The forearc is marked by a heterogeneous distribution of low magnitude (<5 Mw) thrust zone seismicity, possibly due to the rough incoming plate topography and/or serpentinization of the forearc. A sequence of thrust earthquakes occurs at depths 10 km below seafloor and within 20 km of the trench axis, demonstrating that the megathrust is seismically active nearly to the trench.


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