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Stress changes from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and increased hazard in the Sichuan basin


On 12 May 2008, the devastating magnitude 7.9 (Wenchuan) earthquake struck the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, collapsing buildings and killing thousands in major cities aligned along the western Sichuan basin in China. After such a large-magnitude earthquake, rearrangement of stresses in the crust commonly leads to subsequent damaging earthquakes1,2,3,4,5. The mainshock of the 12 May earthquake ruptured with as much as 9 m of slip along the boundary between the Longmen Shan and Sichuan basin, and demonstrated the complex strike–slip and thrust motion6 that characterizes the region7,8. The Sichuan basin and surroundings are also crossed by other active strike–slip and thrust faults. Here we present calculations of the coseismic stress changes that resulted from the 12 May event using models of those faults, and show that many indicate significant stress increases. Rapid mapping of such stress changes can help to locate fault sections with relatively higher odds of producing large aftershocks.

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Figure 1: Map of study area, calculated stress changes on major Sichuan basin and other faults after the Wenchuan earthquake, and aftershock data.


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We thank R. Harris and W. Thatcher for their help with this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Tom Parsons.

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Parsons, T., Ji, C. & Kirby, E. Stress changes from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and increased hazard in the Sichuan basin. Nature 454, 509–510 (2008).

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