Triggering of earthquake aftershocks by dynamic stresses

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It is thought that small ‘static’ stress changes due to permanent fault displacement can alter the likelihood of, or trigger, earthquakes on nearby faults1. Many studies of triggering in the near-field, particularly of aftershocks, rely on these static changes as the triggering agent2,3,4 and consider them only in terms of equivalent changes in the applied load on the fault3,4,5,6. Here we report a comparison of the aftershock pattern of the moment magnitude Mw = 7.3 Landers earthquake, not only with static stress changes but also with transient, oscillatory stress changes transmitted as seismic waves (that is, ‘dynamic’ stresses). Dynamic stresses do not permanently change the applied load and thus can trigger earthquakes only by altering the mechanical state or properties of the fault zone. These dynamically weakened faults may fail after the seismic waves have passed by, and might even cause earthquakes that would not otherwise have occurred. We find similar asymmetries in the aftershock and dynamic stress patterns, the latter being due to rupture propagation, whereas the static stress changes lack this asymmetry. Previous studies have shown that dynamic stresses can promote failure at remote distances7,8,9,10,11,12, but here we show that they can also do so nearby.

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Figure 1: Cartoon time-histories of complete Coulomb stress change, ΔCFS(t), and its variation with distance.
Figure 2: Pre- and post-Landers seismicity and calculated seismicity rate change.
Figure 3: Maps of modelled ΔCFS and peak ΔCFS(t).
Figure 4: Comparisons of peak ΔCFS(t) and ΔCFS with seismicity rate change.


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We are grateful to F. Cotton, O. Coutant, P. Reasenberg and S. Davis for kindly supplying us with their computer codes. We thank S. Hough, M. Johnston & C. Marone for thoughtful reviews. The US Geological Survey funded this work.

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Correspondence to Joan Gomberg.

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