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The 1986 Kermadec earthquake and its relation to plate segmentation


To evaluate the tectonic significance of the October 20, 1986 Kermadec earthquake (M w =7.7), we performed a comprehensive analysis of source parameters using surface waves, body waves, and relocated aftershocks. Amplitude and phase spectra from up to 93 Rayleigh waves were inverted for centroid time, depth, and moment tensor in a two-step algorithm. In some of the inversions, the time function was parameterized to include information from the body-wave time function. The resulting source parameters were stable with respect to variations in the velocity and attenuation models assumed, the parameterization of the time function, and the set of Rayleigh waves included. The surface wave focal mechanism derived (ϕ=275°, δ=61°, λ=156°) is an oblique-compressional mechanism that is not easy to interpret in terms of subduction tectonics. A seismic moment of 4.5×1020 N-m, a centroid depth of 45±5 km, and a centroid time of 13±3 s were obtained. Directivity was not resolvable from the surface waves. The short source duration is in significant contrast to many large earthquakes.

We performed a simultaneous inversion ofP andSH body waves for focal mechanism and time function. The focal mechanism agreed roughly with the surface wave mechanism. Multiple focal mechanisms remain a possibility, but could not be resolved. The body waves indicate a short duration of slip (15 to 20 s), with secondary moment release 60s later. Seismically radiated energy was computed from the body-wave source spectrum. The stress drop computed from the seismic energy is about 30 bars. Sixty aftershocks that occurred within three months of the mainshock were relocated using the method of Joint Hypocentral Determination (JHD). Most of the aftershocks have underthrusting focal mechanisms and appear to represent triggered slip on the main thrust interface. The depth, relatively high stress drop, short duration of slip, and paucity of true aftershocks are consistent with intraplate faulting within the downgoing plate. Although it is not clear on which nodal plane slip occurred, several factors favor the roughly E-W trending plane. The event occurred near a major segmentation in the downgoing plate at depth, near a bend in the trench, and near a right-lateral offset of the volcanic are by 80 km along an E-W direction. Also, all events in the region from 1977 to 1991 with CMT focal mechanisms similar to that of the Mainshock occurred near the mainshock epicenter, rather than forming an elongate zone parallel to the trench as did the aftershock activity. We interpret this event as part of the process of segmentation or tearing of the subducting slab. This segmentation appears to be related to the subduction of the Louisville Ridge, which may act as an obstacle to subduction through its buoyancy.

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Houston, H., Anderson, H., Beck, S.L. et al. The 1986 Kermadec earthquake and its relation to plate segmentation. PAGEOPH 140, 331–364 (1993).

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Key words

  • Tectonics
  • subduction
  • plate segmentation
  • Kermadec
  • earthquake
  • rupture process