Letter | Published:

Stress transfer in the Tokai subduction zone from the 2009 Suruga Bay earthquake in Japan

Nature Geoscience volume 3, pages 496500 (2010) | Download Citation


Southwestern Japan lies at the boundary between the subducting Philippine Sea plate and the overriding Eurasian plate. A magnitude 8 megathrust earthquake ruptured the Tonankai and Nankai segments in 1944 and 1946, respectively, but the neighbouring Tokai segment of the plate boundary remained locked1. A large megathrust earthquake in the Tokai region has therefore been expected. In 2009, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake took place in Suruga Bay, within the Philippine Sea subducting plate, close to the Tokai segment. Here, we use a fault-slip model to examine the impact of the stress changes2 caused by the Suruga Bay event on the Tokai segment. We show that the occurrence rate of plate-boundary seismicity increased following the earthquake. Most of the presumed strongly locked patches of the Tokai segment are located within areas of increased stress. Rupturing of a locked patch—following a threshold level of seismic stress—could trigger the rupture of the entire Tokai segment, leading to a megathrust earthquake.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    Source mechanisms and tectonic significance of historic earthquakes along the Nankai trough, Japan. Tectonophysics 27, 119–140 (1975).

  2. 2.

    The role of stress transfer in earthquake occurrence. Nature 402, 605–609 (1999).

  3. 3.

    , , & Temporal variation of large intraplate earthquakes in coupled subduction zones. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 54, 258–312 (1989).

  4. 4.

    & A double-difference earthquake location algorithm: Method and application to the Northern Hayward fault, California. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 90, 1353–1368 (2000).

  5. 5.

    et al. Recent progress of seismic observation networks in Japan—Hi-net, F-net, K-NET and KiK-net. Earth Planet. Space 56, xv–xxviii (2004).

  6. 6.

    & Inversion of strong ground motion and teleseismic waveform data for the fault rupture history of the 1979 Imperial Valley, California, earthquake. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 73, 1553–1583 (1983).

  7. 7.

    , , & Simultaneous rupture along two conjugate planes of the Wharton Basin earthquake. Science 292, 1145–1148 (2001).

  8. 8.

    Central Disaster Prevention Council of Japan. Special committee report of the Tokai earthquake (in Japanese). 17pp.; available at .

  9. 9.

    Focal zone of a future Tokai earthquake inferred from the seismicity pattern around the plate interface. Tectonophysics 273, 271–291 (1997).

  10. 10.

    , & Presumption of asperities for the anticipated Tokai earthquake (seismic activity change and crustal deformation in the Tokai region: Part 5) [in Japanese with English abstract]. Zisin 60, 267–277 (2008).

  11. 11.

    et al. Detection and monitoring of ongoing aseismic slip in the Tokai region, central Japan. Science 298, 1009–1012 (2002).

  12. 12.

    , & Stress changes from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and increased hazard in the Sichuan basin. Nature 454, 509–510 (2008).

  13. 13.

    , , , & Stress transferred by the 1995 Mw=6.9 Kobe, Japan, shock: Effect on aftershocks and future earthquake probabilities. J. Geophys. Res. 103, 24543–24565 (1998).

  14. 14.

    , & Reexamination of the interplate coupling in the Tokai region, central Japan, based on the GPS data in 1997–2002. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L24604 (2004).

  15. 15.

    A constitutive law for rate of earthquake production and its application to earthquake clustering. J. Geophys. Res. 99, 2601–2618 (1994).

  16. 16.

    , & Static stress changes and the triggering of earthquakes. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 84, 935–953 (1994).

  17. 17.

    , & Progressive failure on the North Anatolian fault since 1939 by earthquake stress triggering. Geophys. J. Int. 128, 594–604 (1997).

  18. 18.

    & Toggling of seismicity by the 1997 Kagoshima earthquake couplet: A demonstration of time-dependent stress transfer. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 2567 (2003).

  19. 19.

    , , & Hypocenter determination method of the Kanto–Tokai observational network for microearthquakes [in Japanese with English abstract]. Rep. Natl. Res. Cent. Disaster Prev. 53, 1–88 (1984).

  20. 20.

    A simple method to calculate Green’s functions for elastic layered media. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 71, 959–971 (1981).

  21. 21.

    & Seismic waves in a stratified half space. Geophys. J. R. Astron. Soc. 57, 557–583 (1979).

  22. 22.

    , , & Forecasting the evolution of seismicity in southern California: Animations built on earthquake stress transfer. J. Geophys. Res. 110, B05S16 (2005).

  23. 23.

    et al. Aftershock modeling based on uncertain stress calculations. J. Geophys. Res. 114, B05309 (2009).

  24. 24.

    A statistical study on the occurrence of aftershocks. Geophysics 30, 521–605 (1961).

  25. 25.

    Estimation of the parameters in the modified Omori formula for aftershock frequencies by the maximum likelihood procedure. J. Phys. Earth 31, 115–124 (1983).

Download references


We thank Y. Okada, S. Hainzl, S. Matsumura, H. Hirose, Y. Ben-Zion, M. Imoto, S. Noguchi, Z. Peng and T. Miyoshi for discussions and reviews of the manuscript. M. Matsubara provided information on the focal mechanism of the triggered seismicity. The suggestions of T. Tada were helpful to improve the clarity and conciseness of the text.

Author information

Author notes

    • K. Obara

    Present address: Earthquake Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, 1-1-1 Yayoi, Bunkyo, Tokyo 113-0032, Japan


  1. National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, 3-1 Tennodai, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0006, Japan

    • S. Aoi
    • , B. Enescu
    • , W. Suzuki
    • , Y. Asano
    • , K. Obara
    • , T. Kunugi
    •  & K. Shiomi


  1. Search for S. Aoi in:

  2. Search for B. Enescu in:

  3. Search for W. Suzuki in:

  4. Search for Y. Asano in:

  5. Search for K. Obara in:

  6. Search for T. Kunugi in:

  7. Search for K. Shiomi in:


S.A. and B.E. conceived the analysis and wrote the paper. S.A., B.E., W.S. and Y.A. carried out the analysis. All the authors contributed to the observations.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to S. Aoi or K. Obara.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information


  1. 1.

    Supplementary Movie

    Supplementary Information

About this article

Publication history






Further reading