Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Rupture across arc segment and plate boundaries in the 1 April 2007 Solomons earthquake


The largest earthquakes are generated in subduction zones, and the earthquake rupture typically extends for hundreds of kilometres along a single subducting plate. These ruptures often begin or end at structural boundaries on the overriding plate that are associated with the subduction of prominent bathymetric features of the downgoing plate1,2. Here, we determine uplift and subsidence along shorelines for the 1 April 2007 moment magnitude MW 8.1 earthquake in the western Solomon Islands, using coral microatolls which provide precise measurements of vertical motions in locations where instrumental data are unavailable. We demonstrate that the 2007 earthquake ruptured across the subducting Simbo ridge transform and thus broke through a triple junction where the Australian and Woodlark plates subduct beneath the overriding Pacific plate. Previously, no known major megathrust rupture has involved two subducting plates. We conclude that this event illustrates the uncertainties of predicting the segmentation of subduction zone rupture on the basis of structural discontinuities.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Plate tectonic setting and bathymetry23,24 of the western Solomon Islands.
Figure 2: Geologic evidence of co-seismic vertical motions.
Figure 3: Vertical motions produced by the 1 April 2007 earthquake.


  1. Lobkovsky, L. I., Kerchman, V. I., Baranov, B. V. & Pristavkina, E. I. Analysis of seismotectonic processes in subduction zones from the standpoint of a keyboard model of great earthquakes. Tectonophysics 199, 211–236 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Taylor, F. W., Edwards, R. L., Wasserburg, G. J. & Frohlich, C. Seismic recurrence intervals and timing of aseismic subduction inferred from emerged corals and reefs of the central Vanuatu (New Hebrides) frontal arc. J. Geophys. Res. 95, 393–408 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Ruff, L. & Kanamori, H. Seismic coupling and uncoupling at subduction zones. Tectonophysics 99, 99–117 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Kanamori, H. Rupture process of subduction zone earthquakes. Ann. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 14, 293–322 (1986).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Engdahl, E. R. & Villaseñor, A. in International Handbook of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology (ed. Lee, W. H. K. et al.) 665–690 (Int. Geophys. Ser., 81A, 2002).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Cifuentes, I. The 1960 Chilean earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 665–680 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Satake, K., Wang, K. & Atwater, B. F. Fault slip and seismic moment of the 1700 Cascadia earthquake inferred from Japanese tsunami descriptions. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 2535 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Chen, M.-C. Seismicity and Tectonics of the Arc Segmentation in the Solomon Island Arc, SW Pacific Ocean and their Relation to Subducting Bathymetric Features. MS thesis, Univ. Texas Austin (2007).

  9. Mann, P., Taylor, F. W., Lagoe, M. B., Quarles, A. & Burr, G. Late Quaternary uplift of the New Georgia Islands (Solomon Island arc) in response to subduction of the recently active Woodlark spreading center. Tectonophysics 295, 259–306 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Taylor, F. W. et al. Rapid forearc uplift and subsidence caused by impinging bathymetric features: Examples from the New Hebrides and Solomon arcs. Tectonics 24, TC6005 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Nunn, P. D. On the convergence of myth and reality: Examples from the Pacific Islands. Geographical J. 167, 125–138 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Taylor, F. W., Isacks, B. L., Jouannic, C., Bloom, A. L. & Dubois, J. Coseismic and Quaternary vertical tectonic movements, Santo and Malekula Islands, New Hebrides island arc. J. Geophys. Res. 85, 5367–5381 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Taylor, F. W., Frohlich, C., Lecolle, J. & Strecker, M. Analysis of partially emerged corals and reef terraces in the central Vanuatu arc: Comparison of contemporary coseismic and nonseismc with Quaternary vertical movements. J. Geophys. Res. 92, 4905–4933 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Zachariasen, J., Sieh, K., Taylor, F. W. & Hantoro, W. S. Modern vertical deformation above the Sumatran subduction zone: Paleogeodetic insights from coral microatolls. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 90, 897–913 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Briggs, R. W. et al. Deformation and slip along the Sunda Megathrust in the great 2005 Nias-Simeulue earthquake. Science 311, 1897–1901 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Meltzner, A. et al. Uplift and subsidence associated with the great Aceh-Andaman earthquake of 2004. J. Geophys. Res. 111, B02407 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Yoneshima, S. et al. Subduction of the Woodlark Basin at New Britain Trench, Solomon Islands region. Tectonophysics 397, 225–239 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Okada, Y. Surface deformation due to shear and tensile faults in a half-space. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 76, 1135–1154 (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Mogi, K. Relationship between the occurrence of great earthquakes and tectonic structures. Bull. Earthq. Res. Inst. 47, 429–451 (1969).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Cummins, P. R., Baba, T., Kodaira, S. & Kaneda, Y. The 1946 Nankai earthquake and segmentation of the Nankai Trough. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 132, 75–87 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Collot, J.-E. et al. Are rupture zone limits of great subduction earthquakes controlled by upper plate structures? Evidence from multichannel reflection data acquired across the northern Ecuador-southwest Colombia margin. J. Geophys. Res. 109, B11103 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Taylor, B. in Marine Geology, Geophysics and Geochemistry of the Woodlark Basin-Solomon Islands (eds Taylor, B. & Exon, N. F.) 25–48 (Earth Sci. Ser., Vol. 7, Circum-Pac. Council Energy Min. Resour., Houston, 1987).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Goodliffe, A. M. The Rifting of Continental and Oceanic Lithosphere: Observations from the Woodlark Basin. PhD thesis, Univ. Hawaii, Honolulu (1998).

  24. Taylor, B., Goodliffe, A. M. & Martinez, F. How continents break up: Insights from Papua New Guinea. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 7497–7512 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lay, T. & Kanamori, H. Earthquake doublets in the Solomon Islands. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 21, 283–304 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Schwartz, S., Lay, T. & Ruff, L. J. Source process of the great 1971 Solomons Islands doublet. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 56, 294–310 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Ekström, G., Dziewonski, A. M., Maternovskaya, N. N. & Nettles, M. Global seismicity of 2003: Centroid-moment-tensor solutions for 1087 earthquakes. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 148, 327–335 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Field expenses for this project were supported by a Rapid Response grant from the Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin and by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to the Tectonics Observatory at the California Institute of Technology. This is UTIG Contribution 1939 and Caltech Tectonics Observatory Contribution 79.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



F.W.T., R.B. and C.F. are responsible for tectonic and seismological interpretations; F.W.T., R.B., A.B., A.K.P. and D.B. carried out the field investigations; M.H. and C.F. developed the tsunami model; A.J.M. provided satellite-derived observations of vertical motions and tide model calculations.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Frederick W. Taylor or Richard W. Briggs.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary figures S1-S3 and tables S1-S3 (PDF 2228 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Taylor, F., Briggs, R., Frohlich, C. et al. Rupture across arc segment and plate boundaries in the 1 April 2007 Solomons earthquake. Nature Geosci 1, 253–257 (2008).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing