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Distant Earthquakes Can Trigger Deep Slow Fault Slip

Distant Earthquakes Can Trigger Deep Slow Fault Slip

Update May 10, 2011 — Researchers David Shelly and David Hill from the U.S. Geological Survey, and Zhigang Peng and Chastity Aiken from Georgia Institute of Technology examined the locations and timing of tremor activity following large distant earthquakes.

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Researchers examining the San Andreas Fault in central California have found evidence that distant earthquakes can trigger episodes of accelerated (but still very slow) slip motion, deep on the fault. 

While a sudden slip on a fault generates earthquakes capable of strong shaking, a fault can also slip slowly. Sometimes, these slow movements on a fault, known as creep events, are accompanied by a weak ground vibration known as a tectonic tremor, which can be detected on sensitive seismometers.

Using data from these seismometers, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Georgia Institute of Technology examined the locations and timing of tremor activity following large distant earthquakes. In some cases, they found evidence that triggered slip and its associated tremor migrated along the length of the fault, and persisted long after the passage of seismic waves from the distant earthquake. The scientists hypothesize that distant earthquakes can act as a trigger for ongoing episodic creep events, sometimes altering their timing.

The researchers also noted that creep events in other locations can sometimes trigger earthquakes. While they caution that their study was focused on triggered tremor rather than triggered earthquakes, they suggest that prolonged triggered creep episodes could be relevant for both phenomena. In particular, triggered creep episodes could provide a physical explanation for the time delay commonly observed between passing seismic waves and distantly generated earthquakes.

Published online this week in the journal, “Nature Geoscience,” the study, “Triggered creep as a possible mechanism for delayed dynamic triggering of tremor and earthquakes,” is the latest of ongoing research on the effects of large earthquakes on distant faults. While distantly triggered small earthquakes are relatively common, another recent study found no evidence for distantly triggered large earthquakes, at least during the first few days after a large event. The current study provides a possible mechanism to explain a range of time delays between a large distant event and triggered earthquakes.

USGS Newsroom

More information

Parameter Value Description
Magnitude mb The magnitude for the event.
Longitude ° East Decimal degrees longitude. Negative values for western longitudes.
Latitude ° North Decimal degrees latitude. Negative values for southern latitudes.
Depth km Depth of the event in kilometers.
Place Textual description of named geographic region near to the event. This may be a city name, or a Flinn-Engdahl Region name.
Time 1970-01-01 00:00:00 Time when the event occurred. UTC/GMT
Updated 1970-01-01 00:00:00 Time when the event was most recently updated. UTC/GMT
Timezone offset Timezone offset from UTC in minutes at the event epicenter.
Felt The total number of felt reports
CDI The maximum reported intensity for the event.
MMI The maximum estimated instrumental intensity for the event.
Alert Level The alert level from the PAGER earthquake impact scale. Green, Yellow, Orange or Red.
Review Status Indicates whether the event has been reviewed by a human.
Tsunami This flag is set to "1" for large events in oceanic regions and "0" otherwise. The existence or value of this flag does not indicate if a tsunami actually did or will exist.
SIG A number describing how significant the event is. Larger numbers indicate a more significant event.
Network The ID of a data contributor. Identifies the network considered to be the preferred source of information for this event.
Sources A comma-separated list of network contributors.
Number of Stations Used The total number of Number of seismic stations which reported P- and S-arrival times for this earthquake.
Horizontal Distance Horizontal distance from the epicenter to the nearest station (in degrees).
Root Mean Square sec The root-mean-square (RMS) travel time residual, in sec, using all weights.
Azimuthal Gap The largest azimuthal gap between azimuthally adjacent stations (in degrees).
Magnitude Type The method or algorithm used to calculate the preferred magnitude for the event.
Event Type Type of seismic event.
Event ID Id of event.
Event Code An identifying code assigned by, and unique from, the corresponding source for the event.
Event IDS A comma-separated list of event ids that are associated to an event.

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