Back-propagating super-shear rupture in the 2016 Mw7.1 Romanche transform fault earthquake

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Stephen Paul Hicks , Ryo Okuwaki , Andreas Steinberg, Catherine Rychert, Nicholas Harmon, Rachel E. Abercrombie, Petros Bogiaztis, David Schlaphorst, Jiri Zahradnik, John-Michael Kendall


How an earthquake rupture propagates strongly influences potentially destructive ground shaking. Complex ruptures often involve slip along multiple faults, masking information on the frictional behaviour of fault zones. Geometrically smooth ocean transform fault plate boundaries offer a favourable environment to study fault dynamics, because strain is accommodated along a single, wide fault zone that offsets homogeneous geology. Here we present an analysis of the 2016 M7.1 earthquake on the Romanche fracture zone in the equatorial Atlantic, using data from both nearby seafloor seismometers and global seismic networks. We show that this rupture had two phases: (1) upward and eastward propagation towards a weaker region where the transform fault intersects the mid-ocean ridge, then (2) unusual back-propagation westwards at super-shear speed toward the centre of the fault. We suggest that deep rupture into weak fault segments facilitated greater seismic slip on shallow locked zones. This highlights that even earthquakes along a single distinct fault zone can be highly dynamic. Observations of back-propagating ruptures are sparse, and the possibility of reverse propagation is largely absent in rupture simulations and unaccounted for in hazard assessments.



Earth Sciences, Geophysics and Seismology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Tectonics and Structure


Seismology, earthquake, Transform faults


Published: 2019-12-26 01:27

Last Updated: 2019-12-30 10:15

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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