Letter | Published:

Absence of remotely triggered large earthquakes beyond the mainshock region

Nature Geoscience volume 4, pages 312316 (2011) | Download Citation



Large earthquakes are known to trigger earthquakes elsewhere. Damaging large aftershocks occur close to the mainshock and microearthquakes are triggered by passing seismic waves at significant distances from the mainshock1,2,3,4,5,6. It is unclear, however, whether bigger, more damaging earthquakes are routinely triggered at distances far from the mainshock, heightening the global seismic hazard after every large earthquake. Here we assemble a catalogue of all possible earthquakes greater than M 5 that might have been triggered by every M 7 or larger mainshock during the past 30 years. We compare the timing of earthquakes greater than M 5 with the temporal and spatial passage of surface waves generated by large earthquakes using a complete worldwide catalogue. Whereas small earthquakes are triggered immediately during the passage of surface waves at all spatial ranges, we find no significant temporal association between surface-wave arrivals and larger earthquakes. We observe a significant increase in the rate of seismic activity at distances confined to within two to three rupture lengths of the mainshock. Thus, we conclude that the regional hazard of larger earthquakes is increased after a mainshock, but the global hazard is not.

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We thank E. Brodsky, R. Stein, S. Toda and N. van der Elst for critical comments on written and oral versions of this presentation.

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  1. US Geological Survey, MS-999, 345 Middlefield Rd, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA

    • Tom Parsons
  2. Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at EI Paso, EI Paso, Texas 79968-0555, USA

    • Aaron A. Velasco


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T.P. and A.A.V. wrote the manuscript collaboratively. T.P. wrote the catalogue search and distance range codes. A.A.V. developed the concept of GSN waveform filtering for remote triggered earthquakes enabling a comparison of large and small events.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tom Parsons.

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