2010 Maule earthquake slip correlates with pre-seismic locking of Andean subduction zone


The magnitude-8.8 Maule (Chile) earthquake of 27 February 2010 ruptured a segment of the Andean subduction zone megathrust that has been suspected to be of high seismic potential1,2,3,4,5,6. It is the largest earthquake to rupture a mature seismic gap in a subduction zone that has been monitored with a dense space-geodetic network before the event. This provides an image of the pre-seismically locked state of the plate interface of unprecedentedly high resolution, allowing for an assessment of the spatial correlation of interseismic locking with coseismic slip. Pre-seismic locking might be used to anticipate future ruptures in many seismic gaps6,7,8,9,10,11,12, given the fundamental assumption that locking and slip are similar. This hypothesis, however, could not be tested without the occurrence of the first gap-filling earthquake. Here we show evidence that the 2010 Maule earthquake slip distribution correlates closely with the patchwork of interseismic locking distribution as derived by inversion of global positioning system (GPS) observations during the previous decade. The earthquake nucleated in a region of high locking gradient and released most of the stresses accumulated in the area since the last major event in 1835. Two regions of high seismic slip (asperities) appeared to be nearly fully locked before the earthquake. Between these asperities, the rupture bridged a zone that was creeping interseismically with consistently low coseismic slip. The rupture stopped in areas that were highly locked before the earthquake but where pre-stress had been significantly reduced by overlapping twentieth-century earthquakes. Our work suggests that coseismic slip heterogeneity at the scale of single asperities should indicate the seismic potential of future great earthquakes, which thus might be anticipated by geodetic observations.

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Figure 1: Tectonic setting of the study area, data, observations and results.
Figure 2: Similarity between coseismic slip and interseismic locking.
Figure 3: Relationship between pre, co- and postseismic deformation patterns.


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Coseismic slip models used in the analysis were generously made available on the internet by the USGS, the UCSB and Caltech. We thank R. Bürgmann for his comments and suggestions, which improved the manuscript. Support by J. Bolte, J. Klotz and R. Kind is kindly acknowledged.

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M.M. compiled the GPS data and developed the FEM for data inversion. M.R. analysed the pattern of locking, slip and aftershocks. M.R and M.M. wrote the paper. O.O. was involved in study design and contributed to geodynamic interpretation. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Onno Oncken.

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Moreno, M., Rosenau, M. & Oncken, O. 2010 Maule earthquake slip correlates with pre-seismic locking of Andean subduction zone. Nature 467, 198–202 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09349

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