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Seismic velocity reduction and accelerated recovery due to earthquakes on the Longmenshan fault


Various studies report on temporal changes of seismic velocities in the crust and attempt to relate the observations to changes of stress and material properties around faults. Although there are growing numbers of observations on coseismic velocity reductions, generally there is a lack of detailed observations of the healing phases. Here we report on a pronounced coseismic reduction of velocities around two locked sections (asperities) of the Longmenshan fault with a large slip during the 2008 Mw 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake and subsequent healing of the velocities. The healing phase accelerated significantly at the southern asperity right after the nearby 2013 Mw 6.6 Lushan earthquake. The results were obtained by joint inversions of travel time data at four different periods across the Wenchuan and Lushan earthquakes. The rapid acceleration of healing in response to the Lushan earthquake provides unique evidence for the high sensitivity of seismic velocities to stress changes. We suggest that stress redistribution plays an important role in rebuilding fault strength.

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Data availability

The travel time data are provided by the Sichuan Earthquake Administration and the China Earthquake Data Centre and are available at

Code availability

The codes used to generate individual results are available through the contact information from the original publications. Requests for further materials should be directed to S.P. (

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Change history

  • 17 June 2019

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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We thank the EASP and the Center of the China Earthquake Networks for providing the seismic data in this study. This work was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20070302), the National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFC1500303) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41674090, 41490610).

Author information

Q.S., Y.L., X.X., J.S. and Z.S. were responsible for collecting the travel time data; S.P. developed the new 4D tomography method and conducted the inversions; S.P., F.N. and Y.B.-Z. contributed to the interpretations and writing; F.N. took the lead on writing the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Fenglin Niu.

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Fig. 1: The topographic map shows the tectonic blocks around the 2008 Mw 7.9 WCEQ and 2013 Mw 7.0 LSEQ.
Fig. 2: Temporal variations of crustal velocity structure beneath the Longmenshan fault zone.
Fig. 3: Spatiotemporal evolution of the velocity structure along the Longmenshan fault zone.
Fig. 4: Evolution diagram of the Longmenshan fault zone in four different stages.