Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Earthquake rupture below the brittle-ductile transition in continental lithospheric mantle

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Science Advances  15 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1602642
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602642

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Earthquakes deep in the continental lithosphere are rare and hard to interpret in our current understanding of temperature control on brittle failure. The recent lithospheric mantle earthquake with a moment magnitude of 4.8 at a depth of ~75 km in the Wyoming Craton was exceptionally well recorded and thus enabled us to probe the cause of these unusual earthquakes. On the basis of complete earthquake energy balance estimates using broadband waveforms and temperature estimates using surface heat flow and shear wave velocities, we argue that this earthquake occurred in response to ductile deformation at temperatures above 750°C. The high stress drop, low rupture velocity, and low radiation efficiency are all consistent with a dissipative mechanism. Our results imply that earthquake nucleation in the lithospheric mantle is not exclusively limited to the brittle regime; weakening mechanisms in the ductile regime can allow earthquakes to initiate and propagate. This finding has significant implications for understanding deep earthquake rupture mechanics and rheology of the continental lithosphere.

  • continental lithosphere
  • rheology
  • earthquake sources
  • directivity
  • lithosphere
  • rupture mechanics

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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