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Nucleation speed limit on remote fluid induced earthquakes

August 23, 2017

Earthquakes triggered by other remote seismic events are explained as a response to long-traveling seismic waves that temporarily stress the crust. However, delays of hours or days after seismic waves pass through are reported by several studies, which are difficult to reconcile with the transient stresses imparted by seismic waves. We show that these delays are proportional to magnitude and that nucleation times are best fit to a fluid diffusion process if the governing rupture process involves unlocking a magnitude-dependent critical nucleation zone. It is well established that distant earthquakes can strongly affect the pressure and distribution of crustal pore fluids. Earth’s crust contains hydraulically isolated, pressurized compartments in which fluids are contained within low-permeability walls. We know that strong shaking induced by seismic waves from large earthquakes can change the permeability of rocks. Thus, the boundary of a pressurized compartment may see its permeability rise. Previously confined, overpressurized pore fluids may then diffuse away, infiltrate faults, decrease their strength, and induce earthquakes. Magnitude-dependent delays and critical nucleation zone conclusions can also be applied to human-induced earthquakes.