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Earthquakes triggered by silent slip events on Kīlauea volcano, Hawaii

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 09 November 2006


Slow-slip events, or ‘silent earthquakes’, have recently been discovered in a number of subduction zones including the Nankai trough1,2,3 in Japan, Cascadia4,5, and Guerrero6 in Mexico, but the depths of these events have been difficult to determine from surface deformation measurements. Although it is assumed that these silent earthquakes are located along the plate megathrust, this has not been proved. Slow slip in some subduction zones is associated with non-volcanic tremor7,8, but tremor is difficult to locate and may be distributed over a broad depth range9. Except for some events on the San Andreas fault10, slow-slip events have not yet been associated with high-frequency earthquakes, which are easily located. Here we report on swarms of high-frequency earthquakes that accompany otherwise silent slips on Kīlauea volcano, Hawaii. For the most energetic event, in January 2005, the slow slip began before the increase in seismicity. The temporal evolution of earthquakes is well explained by increased stressing caused by slow slip, implying that the earthquakes are triggered. The earthquakes, located at depths of 7–8 km, constrain the slow slip to be at comparable depths, because they must fall in zones of positive Coulomb stress change. Triggered earthquakes accompanying slow-slip events elsewhere might go undetected if background seismicity rates are low. Detection of such events would help constrain the depth of slow slip, and could lead to a method for quantifying the increased hazard during slow-slip events, because triggered events have the potential to grow into destructive earthquakes.

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Figure 1: Displacements and inferred slip zones for four silent slip events.
Figure 2: Temporal association of deformation and seismicity.
Figure 3: Cumulative number of earthquakes compared to that predicted for a slip event by equation (3).
Figure 4: Earthquake locations in relation to Coulomb stress change due to fault slip.
Figure 5: Dislocation at a depth of 8 km fits the GPS data well.

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We gratefully acknowledge C. Thurber for providing seismic data from the University of Wisconsin 1999/2000 experiment, P. Okubo for help with HVO seismic data, the University of Hawaii for exchange of GPS data, and D. Swanson for editorial comments. Author Contributions P.S. and E.K.D. jointly modelled GPS and seismic data. P.S. derived the seismicity rate results. D.S. relocated the earthquakes. A.M. processed GPS data and first detected the events studied. P.C. helped with time-dependent slip inversion. All authors discussed results and commented on manuscript.

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Correspondence to Peter Cervelli.

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Segall, P., Desmarais, E., Shelly, D. et al. Earthquakes triggered by silent slip events on Kīlauea volcano, Hawaii. Nature 442, 71–74 (2006).

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