Antarctic icequakes triggered by the 2010 Maule earthquake in Chile

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
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Seismic waves from distant, large earthquakes can almost instantaneously trigger shallow micro-earthquakes and deep tectonic tremor as they pass through Earth’s crust1. Such remotely triggered seismic activity mostly occurs in tectonically active regions. Triggered seismicity is generally considered to reflect shear failure on critically stressed fault planes and is thought to be driven by dynamic stress perturbations from both Love and Rayleigh types of surface seismic wave2. Here we analyse seismic data from Antarctica in the six hours leading up to and following the 2010 Mw 8.8 Maule earthquake in Chile. We identify many high-frequency seismic signals during the passage of the Rayleigh waves generated by the Maule earthquake, and interpret them as small icequakes triggered by the Rayleigh waves. The source locations of these triggered icequakes are difficult to determine owing to sparse seismic network coverage, but the triggered events generate surface waves, so are probably formed by near-surface sources. Our observations are consistent with tensile fracturing of near-surface ice or other brittle fracture events caused by changes in volumetric strain as the high-amplitude Rayleigh waves passed through. We conclude that cryospheric systems can be sensitive to large distant earthquakes.

At a glance


  1. The study region in Antarctica and station HOWD, which exhibited the clearest triggering signal.
    Figure 1: The study region in Antarctica and station HOWD, which exhibited the clearest triggering signal.

    a, Map of Antarctica and surrounding regions indicating seismic stations where triggering clearly occurs (red), some signals may be present but status is ambiguous (orange), and no triggering observed (blue) during the passage of Maule mainshock surface waves. b, The great circle path (~4,691 km) for seismic waves from the earthquake (star) to station HOWD in the Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica. c, A portion of the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica24. Ice flow speed25 adjacent to station HOWD (red triangle), where faster-flowing ice (>50 km yr−1) is indicated by red shading and ice that is not flowing is blue. The red arrow indicates the back-azimuth of the incoming seismic waves from the Maule mainshock.

  2. Seismic data recorded at stations HOWD and AGO1 during the 2010 Mw 8.8 Maule, Chile earthquake.
    Figure 2: Seismic data recorded at stations HOWD and AGO1 during the 2010 Mw 8.8 Maule, Chile earthquake.

    a, A comparison of the three-component displacement seismograms and the 5-Hz high-pass-filtered envelope function (log-based-10) at station HOWD during the Maule mainshock. Vertical dashed lines show the predicted arrival time of P and S phases. b, The corresponding spectrogram for the vertical component, computed after applying a 0.5 Hz high-pass filter to suppress high-frequency artefacts from short windows26. c, A zoom-in plot showing the broadband displacement and the high-frequency signals during the upward motion (dilatation) of the vertical displacement. The vertical bar shows the scale for the corresponding volumetric changes. df, The same plots as for ac for seismic data recorded at station AGO1.

  3. Seismic data recorded before/after the Maule mainshock and detections of high-frequency signals.
    Figure 3: Seismic data recorded before/after the Maule mainshock and detections of high-frequency signals.

    a, 5-Hz high-pass-filtered log-based-10 envelope function showing seismic signals 6 h before and after the Maule mainshock. b, Mean correlation coefficient (CC) values by using the stacked high-frequency bursts during the Rayleigh wave as templates. c, A zoom-in plot showing a comparison between the envelope function and the CC values around the arrival time of the teleseismic waves. Numbers 1–13 mark the high-frequency bursts with waveforms shown in d. d, Individual three-component seismograms at station HOWD showing the first 13 high-frequency bursts triggered during the Rayleigh waves. The bottom traces are the stacked seismograms from bursts 3 to 13. The numbers on the left and right side mark the arrival time of the 13 bursts and their sequential numbers, respectively.


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  1. School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA

    • Zhigang Peng &
    • Jacob I. Walter
  2. Geosciences Department, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA

    • Richard C. Aster
  3. Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

    • Andrew Nyblade &
    • Sridhar Anandakrishnan
  4. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63130, USA

    • Douglas A. Wiens
  5. Present address: Institute for Geophysics, University of Texas at Austin, 78758, USA.

    • Jacob I. Walter


Z.P. performed the analysis on detecting icequakes and statistical analysis of triggering potential. J.I.W. carried out the Rayleigh wave detector analysis. S.A., R.C.A., A.N. and D.A.W. led data collection efforts for POLENET seismic stations. All authors participated in interpreting the results and preparing the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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