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Tidal Triggering of Low Frequency Earthquakes Near Parkfield, California: Implications for Fault Mechanics Within the Brittle-Ductile Transition
Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth (2012)
  • A. M.. Thomas
  • R. Burgmann
  • D. R. Shelly
  • N. M. Beeler
  • Maxwell L. Rudolph, Portland State University

Studies of nonvolcanic tremor (NVT) have established the significant impact of small stress perturbations on NVT generation. Here we analyze the influence of the solid earth and ocean tides on a catalog of ∼550,000 low frequency earthquakes (LFEs) distributed along a 150 km section of the San Andreas Fault centered at Parkfield. LFE families are identified in the NVT data on the basis of waveform similarity and are thought to represent small, effectively co-located earthquakes occurring on brittle asperities on an otherwise aseismic fault at depths of 16 to 30 km. We calculate the sensitivity of each of these 88 LFE families to the tidally induced right-lateral shear stress (RLSS), fault-normal stress (FNS), and their time derivatives and use the hypocentral locations of each family to map the spatial variability of this sensitivity. LFE occurrence is most strongly modulated by fluctuations in shear stress, with the majority of families demonstrating a correlation with RLSS at the 99% confidence level or above. Producing the observed LFE rate modulation in response to shear stress perturbations requires low effective stress in the LFE source region. There are substantial lateral and vertical variations in tidal shear stress sensitivity, which we interpret to reflect spatial variation in source region properties, such as friction and pore fluid pressure. Additionally, we find that highly episodic, shallow LFE families are generally less correlated with tidal stresses than their deeper, continuously active counterparts. The majority of families have weaker or insignificant correlation with positive (tensile) FNS. Two groups of families demonstrate a stronger correlation with fault-normal tension to the north and with compression to the south of Parkfield. The families that correlate with fault-normal clamping coincide with a releasing right bend in the surface fault trace and the LFE locations, suggesting that the San Andreas remains localized and contiguous down to near the base of the crust. The deep families that have high sensitivity to both shear and tensile normal stress perturbations may be indicative of an increase in effective fault contact area with depth. Synthesizing our observations with those of other LFE-hosting localities will help to develop a comprehensive understanding of transient fault slip below the “seismogenic zone” by providing constraints on parameters in physical models of slow slip and LFEs.

  • Earthquakes -- Research,
  • San Andreas Fault (Calif.)
Publication Date
May, 2012
Publisher Statement
Copyright (2012) American Geophysical Union
Citation Information
A. M.. Thomas, R. Burgmann, D. R. Shelly, N. M. Beeler, et al.. "Tidal Triggering of Low Frequency Earthquakes Near Parkfield, California: Implications for Fault Mechanics Within the Brittle-Ductile Transition" Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth Vol. 117 Iss. B5 (2012)
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