Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A great earthquake doublet and seismic stress transfer cycle in the central Kuril islands


Temporal variations of the frictional resistance on subduction-zone plate boundary faults associated with the stick–slip cycle of large interplate earthquakes are thought to modulate the stress regime and earthquake activity within the subducting oceanic plate1,2,3. Here we report on two great earthquakes that occurred near the Kuril islands, which shed light on this process and demonstrate the enhanced seismic hazard accompanying triggered faulting. On 15 November 2006, an event of moment magnitude 8.3 ruptured the shallow-dipping plate boundary along which the Pacific plate descends beneath the central Kuril arc. The thrust ruptured a seismic gap that previously had uncertain seismogenic potential4,5, although the earlier occurrence of outer-rise compressional events had suggested the presence of frictional resistance1,2. Within minutes of this large underthrusting event, intraplate extensional earthquakes commenced in the outer rise region seaward of the Kuril trench, and on 13 January 2007, an event of moment magnitude 8.1 ruptured a normal fault extending through the upper portion of the Pacific plate, producing one of the largest recorded shallow extensional earthquakes. This energetic earthquake sequence demonstrates the stress transfer process within the subducting lithosphere, and the distinct rupture characteristics of these great earthquakes illuminate differences in seismogenic properties and seismic hazard of such interplate and intraplate faults.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Great doublet rupture region.
Figure 2: Seismicity pattern.
Figure 3: Coseismic slip distributions.
Figure 4: Source radiation characteristics.


  1. 1

    Christensen, D. H. & Ruff, L. J. Seismic coupling and outer rise earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res. 93, 13421–13444 (1988)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Lay, T., Astiz, L., Kanamori, H. & Christensen, D. H. Temporal variation of large intraplate earthquakes in coupled subduction zones. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 54, 258–312 (1989)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Dmowska, R., Rice, J. R., Lovison, L. C. & Josell, D. Stress transfer and seismi phenomena in coupled subduction zones during the earthquake cycle. J. Geophys. Res. 93, 7869–7884 (1988)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Lay, T., Kanamori, H. & Ruff, L. J. The asperity model and the nature of large subduction zone earthquakes. Earthquake Prediction Res. 1, 3–71 (1982)

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    McCann, W. R., Nishenko, S. P., Sykes, L. R. & Krasue, J. Seismic gaps and plate tectonics; seismic potential for major boundaries. Pure Appl. Geophys. 117, 1082–1147 (1979)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Lay, T. & Kanamori, H. Earthquake doublets in the Solomon Islands. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 21, 283–304 (1980)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Xu, Z. & Schwartz, S. Y. Large earthquake doublets and fault plane heterogeneity in the northern Solomon Islands subduction zone. Pure Appl. Geophys. 140, 365–390 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Kagan, Y. Y. & Jackson, D. D. Worldwide doublets of large shallow earthquakes. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 89, 1147–1155 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Gibowicz, S. J. & Lasocki, S. Earthquake doublets and multiplets in the Fiji-Tonga-Kermadec region. Acta Geophys. Polon. 53, 239–274 (2005)

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Nomanbhoy, N. & Ruff, L. J. A simple discrete element model for large multiplet earthquake. J. Geophys. Res. 101, 5707–5723 (1996)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Ammon, C. J. et al. Rupture process of the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. Science 308, 1133–1139 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Ammon, C. J., Kanamori, H., Lay, T. & Velasco, A. A. The 17 July 2006 Java tsunami earthquake (Mw = 7.8). Geophys. Res. Lett. 33 L24308 10.10239/2006GL028005 (2006)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Ammon, C. J., Velasco, A. A. & Lay, T. Rapid determination of first-order rupture characteristics for large earthquakes using surface waves: the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33 10.1029/2006GL026303 (2006)

  14. 14

    Kanamori, H. Seismological evidence for a lithospheric normal faulting; the Sanriku earthquake of 1933. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 4, 289–300 (1971)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Venkataraman, A. & Kanamori, H. Observational constraints on the fracture energy of subduction zone earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res. 109 10.1029/2003JB002549 (2004)

  16. 16

    Song, T. A. & Simons, M. Large trench-parallel gravity variations predict seismogenic behavior in subduction zones. Science 301, 630–633 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Wells, R. E., Blakely, R. J., Sugiyama, Y., Scholl, D. W. & Dinterman, P. A. Basin-centered asperities in great subduction zone earthquakes; a link between slip, subsidence, and subduction erosion? J. Geophys. Res. 108 2507 10.1029/2002JB002072 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Ranero, C. R., Phipps Morgan, J., McIntosh, K. & Reichert, C. Bending-related faulting and mantle serpentinization at the Middle American Trench. Nature 425, 367–373 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Ranero, C. R., Villaseñor, A., Phipps Morgan, J. & Weinrebe, W. Relationship between bend-faulting at trenches and intermediate-depth seismicity. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 6, Q12002 (2005)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Lynnes, C. S. & Lay, T. Source process of the great 1977 Sumba earthquake. J. Geophys. Res. 93, 13407–13420 (1988)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Abe, K. Lithospheric normal faulting beneath the Aleutian Trench. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 5, 190–198 (1972)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Lin, J. & Stein, R. S. Stress triggering in thrust and subduction earthquakes and stress interaction between the southern San Andreas and nearby thrust and strike-slip faults. J. Geophys. Res. 109 B02303 10.1029/2003JB002607 (2004)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Liu, X. & McNally, K. C. Quantitative estimates of interplate coupling inferred from outer rise earthquakes. Pure Appl. Geophys. 140, 211–255 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Taylor, M. A. J., Zheng, G., Rice, J. R., Stuart, W. D. & Dmowska, R. Cyclic stressing and seismicity at strong coupled subduction zones. J. Geophys. Res. 101, 8363–8381 (1996)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Melosh, H. J. Nonlinear stress propagation in the Earth’s upper mantle. J. Geophys. Res. 81, 5621–5632 (1976)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Peacock, S. M. Are the lower planes of double seismic zones caused by serpentine dehydration in subducting oceanic mantle? Geology 29, 299–302 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Ranero, C. R. & Sallares, V. Geophysical evidence for hydration of the crust and mantle of the Nazca plate during bending at the north Chile trench. Geology 32, 549–552 (2004)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Hartzell, S. H. & Heaton, T. H. Inversion of strong ground motion and teleseismic waveform data for the fault rupture history of the 1979 Imperial Valley, California, earthquake. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 73, 1153–1184 (1983)

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Velasco, A. A., Ammon, C. J. & Beck, S. L. Broadband source modeling of the November 8, 1997 Tibet (Mw = 7.5) earthquake and its tectonic implications. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 28065–28080 (2000)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Ji, C., Wald, D. J. & Helmberger, D. V. Source description of the 1999 Hector Mine earthquake. Part II: Complexity of slip history. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 92, 1192–1226 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work made use of GMT and SAC software and Federation of Digital Seismic Networks (FDSN) seismic data. The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Data Management System (DMS) was used to access the data. This work was supported by an NSF grant and a USGS Award.

Author Contributions All authors contributed equally to the analysis and preparation of this paper.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thorne Lay.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

The file contains Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Table S1 and Supplementary Figures S1-S6 with Legends. (PDF 3421 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ammon, C., Kanamori, H. & Lay, T. A great earthquake doublet and seismic stress transfer cycle in the central Kuril islands. Nature 451, 561–565 (2008).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing