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Geological constraints on the mechanisms of slow earthquakes

March 23, 2021

The recognition of slow earthquakes in geodetic and seismological data has transformed the understanding of how plate motions are accommodated at major plate boundaries. Slow earthquakes, which slip more slowly than regular earthquakes but faster than plate motion velocities, occur in a range of tectonic and metamorphic settings. They exhibit spatiotemporal associations with large seismic events that indicate a causal relation between modes of slip at different slip rates. Defining the physical controls on slow earthquakes is, therefore, critical for understanding fault and shear zone mechanics. In this Review, we synthesize geological observations of a suite of ancient structures that were active in tectonic settings comparable to where slow earthquakes are observed today. At inferred slow earthquake regions, a range of grain-scale deformation mechanisms accommodated slip at low effective stresses. Material heterogeneity and the geometric complexity of structures that formed at different inferred strain rates are common to faults and shear zones in multiple tectonic environments, and might represent key limiting factors of slow earthquake slip rates. Further geological work is needed to resolve how the spectrum of slow earthquake slip rates can arise from different grain-scale deformation mechanisms and whether there is one universal rate-limiting mechanism that defines slow earthquake slip.

Publication Year 2021
Title Geological constraints on the mechanisms of slow earthquakes
DOI 10.1038/s43017-021-00148-w
Authors James D. Kirkpatrick, Åke Fagereng, David R. Shelly
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Reviews Earth and Environment
Index ID 70222609
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center