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Partial rupture of a locked patch of the Sumatra megathrust during the 2007 earthquake sequence

Nature volume 456, pages 631635 (04 December 2008) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The great Sumatra–Andaman earthquake and tsunami of 2004 was a dramatic reminder of the importance of understanding the seismic and tsunami hazards of subduction zones1,2,3,4. In March 2005, the Sunda megathrust ruptured again, producing an event5 of moment magnitude (Mw) 8.6 south of the 2004 rupture area, which was the site of a similar event in 1861 (ref. 6). Concern was then focused on the Mentawai area, where large earthquakes had occurred in 1797 (Mw = 8.8) and 1833 (Mw = 9.0)6,7. Two earthquakes, one of Mw = 8.4 and, twelve hours later, one of Mw = 7.9, indeed occurred there on 12 September 2007. Here we show that these earthquakes ruptured only a fraction of the area ruptured in 1833 and consist of distinct asperities within a patch of the megathrust that had remained locked in the interseismic period. This indicates that the same portion of a megathrust can rupture in different patterns depending on whether asperities break as isolated seismic events or cooperate to produce a larger rupture. This variability probably arises from the influence of non-permanent barriers, zones with locally lower pre-stress due to the past earthquakes. The stress state of the portion of the Sunda megathrust that had ruptured in 1833 and 1797 was probably not adequate for the development of a single large rupture in 2007. The moment released in 2007 amounts to only a fraction both of that released in 1833 and of the deficit of moment that had accumulated as a result of interseismic strain since 1833. The potential for a large megathrust event in the Mentawai area thus remains large.

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Acknowledgements

This study was partly funded by the NSF (grant EAR-0538333) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. This is Caltech Tectonics Observatory contribution no. 93. We thank R. Burgmann for comments and suggestions.

Author information

Author notes

    • Kerry Sieh

    Present address: Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, 50 Nanyang Avenue, 639798 Singapore.

Affiliations

  1. Tectonics Observatory, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • A. Ozgun Konca
    • , Jean-Philippe Avouac
    • , Anthony Sladen
    • , Aron J. Meltzner
    • , Kerry Sieh
    • , John Galetzka
    • , Jeff Genrich
    • , Danny H. Natawidjaja
    •  & Don V. Helmberger
  2. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

    • Peng Fang
    •  & Yehuda Bock
  3. COMET, Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

    • Zhenhong Li
  4. Geosciences Azur, Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Observatoire de la Cote d’Azurrue, 06560 Valbonne, France

    • Mohamed Chlieh
  5. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, M.S. 300-233, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109, USA

    • Eric J. Fielding
  6. Department of Geological Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 94106

    • Chen Ji

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Correspondence to Jean-Philippe Avouac.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Notes with Supplementary References, Supplementary Figures S1-S10 and Supplementary Tables S1-S7.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07572

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