Large earthquakes are usually assumed to release all of the strain accumulated since the previous event, implying a reduced seismic hazard after them. However, long records of seismic history at several subduction zones suggest supercycle behaviour, where centuries-long accumulated strain is released through clustered large earthquakes, resulting in an extended period of enhanced seismic hazard. Here we combine historical seismology results, present-day geodesy data, and dense local observations of the recent Mw 7.8 2016 Pedernales earthquake to reconstruct the strain budget at the Ecuador subduction zone since the great 1906 earthquake. We show that the Pedernales earthquake involved the successive rupture of two patches on the plate interface that were locked prior to the earthquake and most probably overlaps the area already ruptured in 1942 by a similar earthquake. However, we find that coseismic slip in 2016 exceeds the deficit accumulated since 1942. The seismic moment of every large earthquake during the twentieth century further exceeds the moment deficit accumulated since 1906. These results, together with the seismic quiescence before 1906 highlighted by historical records and marine palaeoseismology, argue for an earthquake supercycle at the Ecuador–Colombia margin. This behaviour, which has led to an enhanced seismic hazard for 110 years, is possibly still going on and may apply to other subduction zones that recently experienced a great earthquake.
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This work has been supported by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement of France (IRD) and the Instituto Geofísico, Escuela Politécnica Nacional (IGEPN), Quito, Ecuador in the frame of the Joint International Laboratory ‘Earthquakes and Volcanoes in the Northern Andes’ (grant IRD 303759/00). Previous funding from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche of France (grant ANR-07-BLAN-0143-01), Programme National de Télédétection Spatiale (grant PNTS-2015-09), SENESCYT (grant Fortalecimiento del Instituto Geofísico) and SENPLADES (grant Generación de Capacidades para la Difusión de Alertas Tempranas) from Ecuador is acknowledged. We thank the Instituto Geográfico Militar (IGM) and the OCP from Ecuador, and the Servicio Geológico Colombiano, Proyecto GeoRED from Colombia for the use of their data. We are grateful to the global broadband seismic networks belonging to the FDSN (in particular IRIS and GEOSCOPE) and IGS contributors for free access to their broadband seismic and GPS data. Support from the ANR JCJ EPOST (grant ANR-14-CE03-0002) and the IRD office in Ecuador during the analysis and the post-earthquake survey is acknowledged. Finally, we acknowledge M. Ruiz and A. Alvarado from IGEPN for the logistic support during the weeks following the earthquake and G. Ponce for her help with the seismological data.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Nocquet, JM., Jarrin, P., Vallée, M. et al. Supercycle at the Ecuadorian subduction zone revealed after the 2016 Pedernales earthquake. Nature Geosci 10, 145–149 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2864
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