Subduction earthquakes controlled by incoming plate geometry: The 2020 M>7.5 Shumagin, Alaska, earthquake doublet

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Yu Jiang, Pablo J. González , Roland Bürgmann


In 2020, an earthquake doublet, a M7.8 on July 22nd and a M7.6 on October 19th, struck the Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone beneath the Shumagin Islands. This is the first documented earthquake doublet involving a megathrust event and a strike-slip event. The first event partially ruptured a seismic gap, which has not hosted large earthquakes since 1917, and the second event was unusual as it broke a trench-perpendicular fault within the incoming oceanic slab. We used an improved Bayesian geodetic inversion method to estimate the fault slip distributions of the major earthquakes using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) wrapped phase and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) offsets data. The geodetic inversions reveal that the Shumagin seismic gap is multi-segmented, and the M7.8 earthquake ruptured the eastern segment from 14 km down to 44 km depth. The coseismic slip occurred along a more steeply, 26-degree dipping segment, and was bounded up-dip by a bend of the megathrust interface to a shallower 8-degree dip angle connecting to the trench. The model for the M7.6 event tightly constrained the rupture depth extent to 19-39 km, within the depth range of the M7.8 coseismic rupture area. We find that the M7.6 event ruptured the incoming slab across its full seismogenic thickness, potentially reactivating subducted Kula-Resurrection seafloor-spreading ridge structures. Coulomb stress transfer models suggest that coseismic and/or postseismic slip of the M7.8 event could have triggered the M7.6 event. We conclude that the segmented megathrust structure and the location of intraslab fault structures limited the rupture dimensions of the M7.8 event and are responsible for the segmentation of the Shumagin seismic gap. Our study suggests that the western and shallower up-dip segments of the seismic gap did not fail and remain potential seismic and tsunami hazard sources. The unusual earthquake doublet provides a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the role of the subducting lithosphere structure in the segmentation of subduction zones.



Earth Sciences, Geophysics and Seismology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


slab geometry, Subduction earthquake doublet, Shumagin seismic gap, Alaska subduction zone


Published: 2021-07-01 20:03

Last Updated: 2022-03-26 06:12

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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