Research ArticleGEOPHYSICS

Slab temperature controls on the Tonga double seismic zone and slab mantle dehydration

Science Advances  11 Jan 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 1, e1601755
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601755

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Double seismic zones are two-layered distributions of intermediate-depth earthquakes that provide insight into the thermomechanical state of subducting slabs. We present new precise hypocenters of intermediate-depth earthquakes in the Tonga subduction zone obtained using data from local island–based, ocean-bottom, and global seismographs. The results show a downdip compressional upper plane and a downdip tensional lower plane with a separation of about 30 km. The double seismic zone in Tonga extends to a depth of about 300 km, deeper than in any other subduction system. This is due to the lower slab temperatures resulting from faster subduction, as indicated by a global trend toward deeper double seismic zones in colder slabs. In addition, a line of high seismicity in the upper plane is observed at a depth of 160 to 280 km, which shallows southward as the convergence rate decreases. Thermal modeling shows that the earthquakes in this “seismic belt” occur at various pressures but at a nearly constant temperature, highlighting the important role of temperature in triggering intermediate-depth earthquakes. This seismic belt may correspond to regions where the subducting mantle first reaches a temperature of ~500°C, implying that metamorphic dehydration of mantle minerals in the slab provides water to enhance faulting.

  • Tonga subduction zone
  • double seismic zone
  • intermediate-depth earthquakes
  • slab dehydration

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