The Role of Deep Creep in the Timing of Large Earthquakes
The observed temporal clustering of the world’s largest earthquakes has been largely discounted for two reasons: a) it is consistent with Poisson clustering, and b) no physical mechanism leading to such clustering has been proposed. This lack of a mechanism arises primarily because the static stress transfer mechanism, commonly used to explain aftershocks and the clustering of large events on localized fault networks, does not work at global distances. However, there is recent observational evidence that the surface waves from large earthquakes trigger non-volcanic tremor at the base of distant fault zones at global distances. Based on these observations, a simple non-linear coupled oscillator model is used to show how the triggering of such tremor can lead to the synchronization of large earthquakes on a global scale. A basic assumption of the model is that induced tremor is a proxy for deep creep that advances the seismic cycle of the fault. This hypothesis is supported by evidence that the 2010 Maule Chile and the 2011 Fukushima Japan earthquakes, which have been shown to induce tremor on the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas Fault, also produce changes in off-fault seismicity that are spatially and temporally consistent with episodes of deep creep on the fault. The observed spatial pattern can be simulated using an Okada dislocation model for deep creep (below 20 km) on the fault plane in which the slip rate decreases from North to South consistent with surface creep measurements and deepens south of the “Parkfield asperity” as indicated by recent tremor locations. The model predicts the off-fault events should have reverse mechanism consistent with observed topography. Finally, a similar acceleration of off-fault seismicity over the four years preceding the 2004 Parkfield earthquake suggests that it was preceded by an episode of creep at the base of the seismogenic zone.