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Antarctic icequakes triggered by the 2010 Maule earthquake in Chile


Seismic waves from distant, large earthquakes can almost instantaneously trigger shallow micro-earthquakes and deep tectonic tremor as they pass through Earth’s crust1. Such remotely triggered seismic activity mostly occurs in tectonically active regions. Triggered seismicity is generally considered to reflect shear failure on critically stressed fault planes and is thought to be driven by dynamic stress perturbations from both Love and Rayleigh types of surface seismic wave2. Here we analyse seismic data from Antarctica in the six hours leading up to and following the 2010 Mw 8.8 Maule earthquake in Chile. We identify many high-frequency seismic signals during the passage of the Rayleigh waves generated by the Maule earthquake, and interpret them as small icequakes triggered by the Rayleigh waves. The source locations of these triggered icequakes are difficult to determine owing to sparse seismic network coverage, but the triggered events generate surface waves, so are probably formed by near-surface sources. Our observations are consistent with tensile fracturing of near-surface ice or other brittle fracture events caused by changes in volumetric strain as the high-amplitude Rayleigh waves passed through. We conclude that cryospheric systems can be sensitive to large distant earthquakes.

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Figure 1: The study region in Antarctica and station HOWD, which exhibited the clearest triggering signal.
Figure 2: Seismic data recorded at stations HOWD and AGO1 during the 2010 Mw 8.8 Maule, Chile earthquake.
Figure 3: Seismic data recorded before/after the Maule mainshock and detections of high-frequency signals.


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Financial support for this study was provided by the NSF CAREER grant EAR-0956051 (Z.P. and J.I.W.). POLENET-Antarctica is supported by NSF Office of Polar Programs grant numbers 0632230, 0632239, 0652322, 0632335, 0632136, 0632209, 0632185, and POLENET-Antarctica phase 2 is supported by NSF Office of Polar Programs grant numbers 1246776 1246712 and 1419268. Seismic instrumentation was provided and supported by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) through the PASSCAL Instrument Center at New Mexico Tech. Seismic data are available through the IRIS Data Management Center. The facilities of the IRIS Consortium are supported by the NSF under Cooperative Agreement EAR-1063471, the NSF Office of Polar Programs and the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration. This manuscript benefits from useful comments by C. Aiken, F. Walter and C. Wu.

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Z.P. performed the analysis on detecting icequakes and statistical analysis of triggering potential. J.I.W. carried out the Rayleigh wave detector analysis. S.A., R.C.A., A.N. and D.A.W. led data collection efforts for POLENET seismic stations. All authors participated in interpreting the results and preparing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Zhigang Peng.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Peng, Z., Walter, J., Aster, R. et al. Antarctic icequakes triggered by the 2010 Maule earthquake in Chile. Nature Geosci 7, 677–681 (2014).

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