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Extremely early recurrence of intraplate fault rupture following the Tohoku-Oki earthquake


Intraplate earthquakes on a fault in Earth’s upper crust commonly recur in 1,000 years or longer. The 2011 M9 Tohoku-Oki earthquake triggered the activation of intraplate earthquakes in northern Kanto, Japan, including two M6 events on 19 March 2011 and 28 December 2016 located near one another. Here we use displacements captured by satellite radar and the Global Navigation Satellite System to show that the two earthquakes ruptured an identical fault. Detailed fault slip modelling shows that the deformation data for the two earthquakes are well explained by slip along a common fault geometry, and that the majority of the slipped area on the fault overlaps. Strain analysis reveals that the first M6 earthquake was followed by exceptionally large postseismic deformation. Such deformation is consistent with afterslip around the M6 rupture area, which in turn rebuilds the shear stress on the fault enabling the next earthquake. We infer that the rapid and large postseismic deformation of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake promoted such afterslip and made the second earthquake recur in just 5.8 years. This study suggests a mechanism to explain observations of extreme temporal clustering in palaeoseismic earthquake recurrence studies.

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Fig. 1: SAR interferograms of the 2011 and 2016 intraplate events.
Fig. 2: Final fault slip models.
Fig. 3: Comparison of the horizontal extensional strain exx.
Fig. 4: Schematics of the inferred fault slip during the studied period.


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We used the PALSAR data shared among the PALSAR Interferometry Consortium to Study our Evolving Land Surface (PIXEL). The data were provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) under a cooperative research contract with the Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo. We used the PALSAR-2 data provided from JAXA through the Earthquake Working Group, a project for evaluating ALOS for disaster mitigation, coordinated by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) and JAXA. The GEONET GNSS data were provided by GSI. We are grateful to the developers of the InSAR and SAR processors used in this study: T. Ozawa of the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience of Japan, and M. Shimada of Tokyo Denki University. We also thank M. Ohata for helping our field survey. We are also grateful to T. Iinuma for providing models of coseismic slip and afterslip of the Tohoku-Oki earthquake. This study was partially supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences KAKENHI Grant Number JP18K03795.

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Y.F. analysed the SAR images, performed fault slip inversions and led the preparation of the paper. D.I. and S.T. investigated the surface ruptures with an emphasis on comparison with on-site surveys. S.M., T.D. and K.T. planned and operated the GNSS measurements in the target region since 2014. S.M. processed the GNSS data. Y.F., S.T. and J.F. performed the stress change calculations, and J.F. computed the stress-driven afterslip.

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Correspondence to Yo Fukushima.

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Fukushima, Y., Toda, S., Miura, S. et al. Extremely early recurrence of intraplate fault rupture following the Tohoku-Oki earthquake. Nature Geosci 11, 777–781 (2018).

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