Lateral Variations of Interplate Coupling along the Mexican Subduction Interface: Relationships with Long-Term Morphology and Fault Zone Mechanical Properties

  • Baptiste RoussetEmail author
  • Cécile Lasserre
  • Nadaya Cubas
  • Shannon Graham
  • Mathilde Radiguet
  • Charles DeMets
  • Anne Socquet
  • Michel Campillo
  • Vladimir Kostoglodov
  • Enrique Cabral-Cano
  • Nathalie Cotte
  • Andrea Walpersdorf
Part of the Pageoph Topical Volumes book series (PTV)


Although patterns of interseismic strain accumulation above subduction zones are now routinely characterised using geodetic measurements, their physical origin, persistency through time, and relationships to seismic hazard and long-term deformation are still debated. Here, we use GPS and morphological observations from southern Mexico to explore potential mechanical links between variations in inter-SSE (in between slow slip events) coupling along the Mexico subduction zone and the long-term topography of the coastal regions from Guerrero to Oaxaca. Inter-SSE coupling solutions for two different geometries of the subduction interface are derived from an inversion of continuous GPS time series corrected from slow slip events. They reveal strong along-strike variations in the shallow coupling (i.e. at depths down to 25 km), with high-coupling zones (coupling >0.7) alternating with low-coupling zones (coupling <0.3). Coupling below the continent is typically strong (>0.7) and transitions to uncoupled, steady slip at a relatively uniform \(\sim \)175-km inland from the trench. Along-strike variations in the coast-to-trench distances are strongly correlated with the GPS-derived forearc coupling variations. To explore a mechanical explanation for this correlation, we apply Coulomb wedge theory, constrained by local topographic, bathymetric, and subducting-slab slopes. Critical state areas, i.e. areas where the inner subduction wedge deforms, are spatially correlated with transitions at shallow depth between uncoupled and coupled areas of the subduction interface. Two end-member models are considered to explain the correlation between coast-to-trench distances and along-strike variations in the inter-SSE coupling. The first postulates that the inter-SSE elastic strain is partitioned between slip along the subduction interface and homogeneous plastic permanent deformation of the upper plate. In the second, permanent plastic deformation is postulated to depend on frictional transitions along the subduction plate interface. Based on the location and friction values of the critical state areas identified by our Coulomb wedge analysis, we parameterise frictional transitions in plastic-static models of deformation over several seismic cycles. This predicts strong shear dissipation above frictional transitions on the subduction interface. The comparison of modelled surface displacements over a critical zone at a frictional transition and over a stable area with no internal wedge deformation shows differences of long-term uplift consistent with the observed along-strike variations in the coast-to-trench distances. Our work favours a model in which frictional asperities partly control short-term inter-SSE coupling as measured by geodesy and in which those asperities persist through time.


Middle America Trench global positioning system inter-SSE coupling critical taper theory plastic deformation coastal morphology 


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This study is supported by the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche, ANR G-GAP RA0000C069) and the USA National Science Foundation (Grant EAR-1114174). The GPS network maintenance and data acquisition were supported by Mexicos PAPIIT IN102105, IN103808 CONACYT 84544 and PAPIIT IN110514 Grants and by the French spatial agency CNES (project TOSCA SSEMEX). Some graphics were made with the Global Mapping Tool (GMT) software. We thank François Renard and Jean-Philippe Avouac for stimulating discussions about this study and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism which we found very helpful to improve the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Baptiste Rousset
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cécile Lasserre
    • 1
  • Nadaya Cubas
    • 2
  • Shannon Graham
    • 3
  • Mathilde Radiguet
    • 1
  • Charles DeMets
    • 4
  • Anne Socquet
    • 1
  • Michel Campillo
    • 1
  • Vladimir Kostoglodov
    • 5
  • Enrique Cabral-Cano
    • 5
  • Nathalie Cotte
    • 1
  • Andrea Walpersdorf
    • 1
  1. 1.ISTerre, CNRSUniv. Grenoble AlpesGrenobleFrance
  2. 2.Institut des Sciences de la Terre de ParisPierre et Marie Curie UniversityParisFrance
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.Department of GeoscienceUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  5. 5.Instituto de GeofísicaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México, CUCoyoacanMexico

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