Diagram of megathrust earthquakes resulting from different material contrast scenarios
Effects of the free surface and material contrasts on the dynamic behavior of megathrust earthquakes. In the updip region, the free surface leads to crack-like rupture (slip-rate distribution shown in blue) and enhanced low-frequency radiation. In the downdip part, the substantial material contrast at the top of the low velocity zone favors pulse-dominant rupture (slip-rate distribution shown in green) and enhanced high-frequency seismic radiation. Credit: Yin & Denolle, 2021, Figure 7
Source: AGU Advances

Earth’s largest earthquakes happen on subduction zone megathrusts, and destructive tsunamis often accompany strong shaking. These earthquakes almost always have a puzzling seismic signature; the shallow parts of megathrust ruptures cause tsunamis but mostly emit low-frequency seismic waves that cause less damaging shaking. However, the deeper parts of the ruptures excite high-frequency waves that are especially dangerous to the built environment. Past studies have suggested that this dichotomy results from different fault properties with depth. However, Yin and Denolle [2021] show that rupture characteristics are very different nearer to the Earth’s surface than at greater depth, which causes the change in seismic signatures. The authors note that their use of more realistic Earth models enables them to capture complex interactions between seismic waves and near surface geology in dynamic rupture simulations that reproduce observations.

Citation: Yin, J. & Denolle, M. [2021]. The Earth’s surface controls the depth-dependent seismic radiation of megathrust earthquakes. AGU Advances, 2, e2021AV000413. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021AV000413

—Tom Parsons, Editor, AGU Advances

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