Seismicity on large faults is often characterized in terms of an independent recurrence time and magnitude distribution, which forms the basis for calculating future earthquake probabilities. The underlying assumption is that the driving mechanism for earthquakes on any particular fault is uniquely linked to that fault, determined by the rate of long-term creep on its deeper extension. However, our modelling of nearly 20 years of Global Positioning System data along the obliquely converging plate boundary in New Zealand shows that interseismic stress accumulation can be independent of the properties of the numerous crustal faults and controlled by locking on the megathrust. In this way, the interseismic driving mechanism for large crustal earthquakes is not linked directly to the individual major faults that rupture. This scenario predicts large-magnitude earthquakes with complex multifault ruptures in broad zones that ‘jump’ from fault to fault, following the contours of stress/strain loading. This can explain the November 2016 Mw7.8 Kaikoura earthquake that shattered the plate boundary in central New Zealand. Repeated episodes of this would create the observed complex array of active faults with the appearance of coherent slip. Our analysis opens up the possibility to use long-term Global Positioning System data to identify this type of earthquake behaviour.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
All of the data used in this article are from publications fully cited in the text. Extensive use of Generic Mapping Tools was made to process data and create the figures.
Beavan, J. et al. New Zealand GPS velocity field: 1995–2013. New Zeal. J. Geol. Geophys. 59, 5–14 (2016).
Litchfield, N. J. et al. A model of active faulting in New Zealand. New Zeal. J. Geol. Geophys. 57, 32–56 (2014).
Walcott, R. I. The kinematics of the plate boundary zone through New Zealand: a comparison of short- and long-term deformations. Geophys. J. R. Astron. Soc. 79, 613–633 (1984).
Altamimi, Z., MétivierL. & Collilieux, X. ITRF 2008 plate motion model. J. Geophys. Res. 117, B07402 (2012).
McCaffrey, R. in Plate Boundary Zones Geodynam. Ser. Vol. 30 (eds Stein S. & Freymueller, J. T.) 100–122 (AGU, Washington DC, 2002).
McCaffrey, R. Block kinematics of the Pacific––North America plate boundary in the southwestern United States from inversion of GPS, seismological, and geologic data. J. Geophys. Res. 110, B07401 (2005).
Reilinger, R. et al. GPS constraints on continental deformation in the Africa‐Arabia‐Eurasia continental collision zone and implications for the dynamics of plate interactions. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 111, B05411 (2006).
Wallace, L. M., Beavan, J., McCaffrey, R. & Darby, D. Subduction zone coupling and tectonic block rotation in the North Island, New Zealand. J. Geophys. Res. 109, B12406 (2004).
Wallace, L. M., Beavan, R. J., McCaffrey, R., Berryman, K. R. & Denys, P. Balancing the plate motion budget in the South Island, New Zealand using GPS, geological and seismological data. Geophys. J. Int. 168, 332–352 (2007).
Wallace, L. et al. The kinematics of a transition from subduction to strike-slip: an example from the central New Zealand plate boundary. J. Geophys. Res. 117, B02405 (2012).
Ranalli, G. Rheology of the Earth 2nd edn (Chapman & Hall, London, 1995).
Smith-Konter, B. R., Sandwell, D. T. & Shearer, P. Locking depths estimated from geodesy and seismology along the San Andreas Fault System: implications for seismic moment release. J. Geophys. Res. 116, B06401 (2011).
Thatcher, W. GPS constraints on the kinematics of continental deformation. Int. Geol. Rev. 45, 191–212 (2003).
Thatcher, W. How the continents deform: the evidence from tectonic geodesy. Ann. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 17, 237–262 (2009). 2009.
Lamb, S. & Smith, E. The nature of the plate interface and driving force of interseismic deformation in the New Zealand plate-boundary zone, revealed by the continuous GPS velocity field. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 118, 3160–3189 (2013).
Reyners, M., Eberhart-Phillips, D. & Bannister, S. Tracking repeated subduction of the Hikurangi Plateau beneath New Zealand. Earth. Planet. Sci. Lett. 311, 165–171 (2011).
Akaike, H. A new look at the statistical model identification. IEEE Trans. Automat. Contr. 19, 716–723 (1974).
Darby, D. J. & Beavan, J. Evidence from GPS measurements for contemporary plate coupling on the southern Hikurangi subduction thrust and partitioning of strain in the upper plate. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 30881–30891 (2001).
Wallace, L. & Beavan, J. Diverse slow slip behavior at the Hikurangi subduction margin, New Zealand. J. Geophys. Res 115, B12402 (2010).
Wallace, L., Beavan, J., Bannister, S. & Williams, C. Simultaneous long-term and short-term slow slip events at the Hikurangi subduction margin, New Zealand: implications for processes that control slow slip event occurrence, duration, and migration. J. Geophys. Res. 117, B11402 (2012).
Beavan, J. et al. Crustal deformation during 1994–1998 due to oblique continental collision in the central Southern Alps, New Zealand, and implications for seismic potential of the Alpine fault. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 104, 25233–25255 (1999).
Lamb, S., Smith, E., Stern, T. & Warren-Smith, E. Continent scale strike-slip on a low-angle fault beneath New Zealand’s Southern Alps: implications for crustal thickening in oblique collision zones. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 16, 3076–3096 (2015).
Warren-Smith, E. et al. Thermochronological evidence of a low-angle, mid crustal detachment plane beneath the central South Island, New Zealand. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 17, 4212–4235 (2016).
Peacock, S. M. in Subduction: Top to Bottom Geophys. Monogr. Ser. Vol. 96 (eds Bebout, G. et al.) 119–133 (AGU, Washington DC, 1996).
Lamb, S. H. Behavior of the brittle crust in wide plate boundary zones. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 99, 4457–4483 (1994).
Bourne, S. J., England, P. C. & Parsons, B. The motion of crustal blocks driven by flow of the lower lithosphere and implications for slip rates of continental strike-slip faults. Nature 391, 655–659 (1998).
Robinson, R. Potential earthquake triggering in a complex fault network: the northern South Island, New Zealand. Geophys. J. Int. 159, 734–748 (2004).
Robinson, R., Van Dissen, R. & Litchfield, N. Using synthetic seismicity to evaluate seismic hazard in the Wellington region, New Zealand. Geophys. J. Int. 187, 510–528 (2011).
Townend, J. in Earthquakes: Radiated Energy and the Physics of Faulting (eds Abercrombie, R. et al.) 313–327 (AGU, Washington DC, 2006).
Arnold, R. & Townend, J. A Bayesian approach to estimating tectonic stress from seismological data. Geophys. J. Int. 170, 1336–1356 (2007).
Hamling, I. J. et al. Complex multifault rupture during the 2016 M w 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake, New Zealand. Science 356, eaam7194 (2017).
Stirling, M. et al. Seismic hazard of the Canterbury region, New Zealand: new earthquake source model and methodology. Bull. New Zeal. Soc. Earthquake Eng. 41, 51–67 (2008).
Bai, Y., Lay, T., Cheung, K. F. & Ye, L. Two regions of seafloor deformation generated the tsunami for the 13 November 2016, Kaikoura, New Zealand earthquake. Geophys. Res Lett. 44, 6597–6606 (2017).
Cesca, S. et al. Complex rupture process of the M w 7.8, 2016, Kaikoura earthquake, New Zealand, and its aftershock sequence. Earth. Planet. Sci. Lett. 478, 110–120 (2017).
Holden, C. et al. The 2016 Kaikōura earthquake revealed by kinematic source inversion and seismic wavefield simulations: slow rupture propagation on a geometrically complex crustal fault network. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 11320–11328 (2017).
Hollingsworth, J., Ye, L. & Avouac, J.-P. Dynamically triggered slip on a splay fault in the M w7.8, 2016 Kaikoura (New Zealand) earthquake. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 3517–3525 (2017).
Kaiser, A. et al. The 2016 Kaikōura, New Zealand, earthquake: preliminary seismological report. Seismol. Res. Lett. 88, 727–739 (2017).
Kaneko, Y., Fukuyama, E. & Hamling, I. J. Slip-weakening distance and energy budget inferred from near-fault ground deformation during the 2016 M w7. 8 Kaikōura earthquake. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 4765–4773 (2017).
Morishita, Y., Kobayashi, T., Fujiwara, S. & Yarai, H. Complex crustal deformation of the 2016 Kaikōura, New Zealand, earthquake revealed by ALOS‐2. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 107, 2676–2686 (2017).
Wang, T. et al. The 2016 Kaikōura earthquake: simultaneous rupture of the subduction interface and overlying faults. Earth. Planet. Sci. Lett. 482, 44–51 (2018).
Wallace, L. M. et al. Triggered slow slip and afterslip on the southern Hikurangi subduction zone following the Kaikōura earthquake. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 4710–4718 (2018).
Nissen, E. et al. Limitations of rupture forecasting exposed by instantaneously triggered earthquake doublet. Nat. Geosci. 9, 330 (2016).
Field, E. H. et al. Uniform California earthquake rupture forecast, version 3 (UCERF3)—the time‐independent model. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 104, 1122–1180 (2014).
Stirling, M. W., Wesnousky, S. G. & Shimazaki, K. Fault trace complexity, cumulative slip, and the shape of the magnitude-frequency distribution for strike-slip faults: a global survey. Geophys. J. Int. 124, 833–868 (1996).
Dolan, J. F., McAuliffe, L. J., Rhodes, E. J., McGill, S. F. & Zinke, R. Extreme multi-millennial slip rate variations on the Garlock fault, California: strain super-cycles, potentially time-variable fault strength, and implications for system-level earthquake occurrence. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 446, 123–136 (2016).
Ninis, D. et al. Slip rate on the Wellington fault, New Zealand, during the late Quaternary: evidence for variable slip during the Holocene. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 103, 559–579 (2013).
Hatem, A. E. et al. 2015, December. Incremental Holocene slip rates from the Hope fault at Hossack Station, Marlborough fault zone, South Island, New Zealand AGU Fall Meeting 2015 abstract id. T31A-2831 (AGU, 2015).
Stirling, M. et al. National seismic hazard model for New Zealand: 2010 update. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 102, 1514–1542 (2012).
Williams, C. A. et al. Revised interface geometry for the Hikurangi Subduction Zone, New Zealand. Seismol. Res. Lett. 84, 1066–1073 (2013).
Lamb, S. Kinematics to dynamics in the New Zealand plate boundary zone: implications for the strength of the lithosphere. Geophys. J. Int. 201, 552–573 (2015).
Wessel, P., Smith, W. H. F., Scharroo, R., Luis, J. F. & Wobbe, F. Generic Mapping Tools: improved version released. EOS Trans. AGU 94, 409–410 (2013).
Bevis, M. The curvature of Wadati–Benioff zones and the torsional rigidity of subducting plates. Nature 323, 52–53 (1986).
Bevis, M. & Martel, S. Oblique plate convergence and interseismic strain accumulation. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 2, 2000GC000125 (2001).
Savage, J. C. A dislocation model of strain accumulation and release at a subduction zone. J. Geophys. Res. 88, 4984–4996 (1983).
Okada, Y. Surface deformation due to shear and tensile faults in a half-space. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 75, 1135–1154 (1985).
Okada, Y. Internal deformation due to shear and tensile faults in a half-space. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 82, 1018–1040 (1992).
Williams, C. A. & Wallace, L. M. Effects of material property variations on slip estimates for subduction interface slow‐slip events. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 1113–1121 (2015).
Nikkhoo, M. & Walter, T. R. Triangular dislocation: an analytical, artefact-free solution. Geophys. J. Int. 201, 1119–1141 (2015).
Almeida, R. et al. Can the updip limit of frictional locking on megathrusts be detected geodetically? Quantifying the effect of stress shadows on near‐trench coupling. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 4754–4763 (2018).
This paper is part of a wider project funded through the New Zealand Marsden Fund, Earthquake Commission and Victoria University of Wellington graduate scholarships. J.D.P.M. was supported by the National Research Foundation of Singapore (award NRF-NRFF2013-04) at the Earth Observatory of Singapore. Data made publicly available through GeoNet (www.geonet.org.nz) and GNS Science were used in this work. We thank R. Burgmann and E. Lindsey for their insightful reviews that greatly improved the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Lamb, S., Arnold, R. & Moore, J.D.P. Locking on a megathrust as a cause of distributed faulting and fault-jumping earthquakes. Nature Geosci 11, 871–875 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0230-5
Earth and Planetary Science Letters (2020)
Nature Communications (2019)
Comparative tomography of reverse-slip and strike-slip seismotectonic provinces in the northern South Island, New Zealand
Strength of an obliquely convergent plate boundary: lithospheric stress magnitudes and viscosity in New Zealand
Geophysical Journal International (2019)
Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth (2019)