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April 2012 intra-oceanic seismicity off Sumatra boosted by the Banda-Aceh megathrust


Large earthquakes nucleate at tectonic plate boundaries, and their occurrence within a plate’s interior remains rare and poorly documented, especially offshore. The two large earthquakes that struck the northeastern Indian Ocean on 11 April 2012 are an exception: they are the largest strike-slip events reported in historical times1,2 and triggered large aftershocks worldwide3. Yet they occurred within an intra-oceanic setting along the fossil fabric of the extinct Wharton basin, rather than on a discrete plate boundary4,5,6,7,8. Here we show that the 11 April 2012 twin earthquakes are part of a continuing boost of the intraplate deformation between India and Australia that followed the Aceh 2004 and Nias 2005 megathrust earthquakes, subsequent to a stress transfer process recognized at other subduction zones9,10. Using Coulomb stress change calculations, we show that the coseismic slips of the Aceh and Nias earthquakes can promote oceanic left-lateral strike-slip earthquakes on pre-existing meridian-aligned fault planes. We further show that persistent viscous relaxation in the asthenospheric mantle several years after the Aceh megathrust explains the time lag between the 2004 megathrust and the 2012 intraplate events. On a short timescale, the 2012 events provide new evidence for the interplay between megathrusts at the subduction interface and intraplate deformation offshore. On a longer geological timescale, the Australian plate, driven by slab-pull forces at the Sunda trench, is detaching from the Indian plate, which is subjected to resisting forces at the Himalayan front6,8,11.

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Figure 1: Present-day kinematics of the India–Australia plate.
Figure 2: Oceanic intraplate seismicity boost after the Aceh (2004) and Nias (2005) earthquakes.
Figure 3: Static Coulomb stress change calculation offshore the Sumatra-Andaman subduction.


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Epicentres of intraplate earthquakes were obtained from the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) catalogue. Focal mechanisms were obtained from the Global Centroid-Moment-Tensor (CMT) Project. Figures were prepared with GMT software. We thank R. Abercrombie for comments.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.D. and N.C.-R. wrote the manuscript and prepared most of the figures with contributions from all co-authors. R.C. wrote the Coulomb stress code, L.F. and O.T. prepared the post-seismic relaxation figures and texts. C.V. has been measuring GPS velocities in southeast Asia for years, some of them being used in the kinematic model.

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Correspondence to Matthias Delescluse.

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Delescluse, M., Chamot-Rooke, N., Cattin, R. et al. April 2012 intra-oceanic seismicity off Sumatra boosted by the Banda-Aceh megathrust. Nature 490, 240–244 (2012).

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