Great Thrust Earthquakes and Aseismic Slip Along the Plate Boundary of the Makran Subduction Zone

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Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth
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Jan 10
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The Makran subduction zone of Iran and Pakistan exhibits strong variation in seismicity between its eastern and western segments and has one of the world's largest forearcs. We determine the source parameters for 14 earthquakes at Makran including the great (M(w) 8.1) earthquake of 1945 (the only instrumentally recorded great earthquake at Makran); we determine the loci of seismic and aseismic slip along the plate boundary, and we assess the effects of the large forearc and accretionary wedge on the style of plate boundary slip. We apply body waveform inversions and, for small-magnitude events, use first motions of P waves to estimate earthquake source parameters. For the 1945 event we also employ dislocation modeling of uplift data. We find that. the earthquake of 1945 in eastern Makran is an interplate thrust event that ruptured approximately one-fifth the length of the subduction zone. Nine smaller events in eastern Makran that are also located at or close to the plate interface have thrust mechanisms similar to that of the 1945 shock. Seaward of these thrust earthquakes lies the shallowest 70-80 km of the plate boundary; we find that this segment and the overlying accretionary wedge remain aseismic both during and between great earthquakes. This aseismic zone, as in other subduction zones, lies within that part of the accretionary wedge that consists of largely unconsolidated sediments (seismic velocities less than 4.0 km/s). The existence of thrust earthquakes indicates that either the sediments along the plate boundary in eastern Makran become sufficiently well consolidated and dewatered about 70 km from the deformation front or older, lithified rocks are present within the forearc so that stick-slip sliding behavior becomes possible. This study shows that a large quantity of unconsolidated sediment does not necessarily indicate a low potential for great thrust earthquakes. In contrast to the east, the plate boundary in western Makran has no clear record of historic great events, nor has modem instrumentation detected any shallow thrust events for at least the past 25 years. Most earthquakes in western Makran occur within the downgoing plate at intermediate depths. The large change in seismicity between eastern and western Makran along with two shallow events that exhibit right-lateral strike-slip motion in central Makran suggest segmentation of the subduction zone. Two Paleozoic continental blocks dominate the overriding plate. The boundary between them is approximately coincident with the transition in seismicity. Although relative motion between these blocks may account for some of the differing seismic behavior, the continuity of the deformation front and of other tectonic features along the subduction zone suggests that the rate of subduction does not change appreciably from east to west. The absence of plate boundary events in western Makran indicates either that entirely aseismic subduction occurs or that the plate boundary is currently locked and experiences great earthquakes with long repeat times. Evidence is presently inconclusive concerning which of these two hypotheses is most correct. The presence of well-defined late Holocene marine terraces along portions of the coasts of eastern and western Makran could be interpreted as evidence that both sections of the arc are capable of generating large plate boundary earthquakes.If that hypothesis is correct, then western Makran could produce a great earthquake or it could rupture as a number of segments in somewhat smaller-magnitude events. Alternatively, it is possible that western Makran is significantly different from eastern Makran and experiences largely aseismic slip at all times. A knowledge of the velocity structure and nature of the state of consolidation or lithification of rocks at depth in the interior portion of the forearc of western Makran should help to ascertain whether that portion of the plate boundary moves aseismically or ruptures in large to great earthquakes. A resolution of this question has important implications for seismic hazard not only for western Makran but also for other margins, such as the Cascadia subduction zone of western North America, where historical thrust events have not occurred.


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