The role of stress transfer in earthquake occurrence

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An earthquake alters the shear and normal stress on surrounding faults. New evidence strengthens the hypothesis that such small, sudden stress changes cause large changes in seismicity rate. Rates climb where the stress increases (aftershocks) and fall where the stress drops. Both increases and decreases in seismicity rate are followed by a time-dependent recovery. When stress change is translated into probability change, seismic hazard is seen to be strongly influenced by earthquake interaction.

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Figure 1: Comparison of earthquakes before and after the Mw = 7.8 San Francisco earthquake on the San Andreas fault.
Figure 2: Correlation between calculated Coulomb stress change and seismicity rate change for the 1994 Mw = 6.7 Northridge earthquake.
Figure 3: Observed seismicity rate change as a function of calculated Coulomb stress change for the 1995 Mw = 6.9 Kobe earthquake34.
Figure 4: Seismicity and stress changes associated with the 1989 Mw = 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake resolved on nearby faults15.
Figure 5: Stress changes associated with the 1992 Mw = 7.3 Landers and the 1994 Mw = 6.7 Northridge ruptures resolved on nodal planes of earthquakes with focal mechanisms.
Figure 6: The influence of stress changes associated with the Loma Prieta earthquake on ML 1.5 seismicity rates32.


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I thank the many colleagues who shared their preliminary research, and R. Dmowska, J. Lin, R. Madariaga, T. Parsons, F. Pollitz, J. Rice and S. Toda for comments. This Review Article was written while at Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. The support of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Ross S. Stein.

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Stein, R. The role of stress transfer in earthquake occurrence. Nature 402, 605–609 (1999) doi:10.1038/45144

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