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Characterization of Diverse Megathrust Fault Behavior Related to Seismic Supercycles, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra


Philibosian, Belle (2013) Characterization of Diverse Megathrust Fault Behavior Related to Seismic Supercycles, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/E0QH-YT77.


Long paleoseismic histories are necessary for understanding the full range of behavior of faults, as the most destructive events often have recurrence intervals longer than local recorded history. The Sunda megathrust, the interface along which the Australian plate subducts beneath Southeast Asia, provides an ideal natural laboratory for determining a detailed paleoseismic history over many seismic cycles. The outer-arc islands above the seismogenic portion of the megathrust cyclically rise and subside in response to processes on the underlying megathrust, providing uncommonly good illumination of megathrust behavior. Furthermore, the growth histories of coral microatolls, which record tectonic uplift and subsidence via relative sea level, can be used to investigate the detailed coseismic and interseismic deformation patterns. One particularly interesting area is the Mentawai segment of the megathrust, which has been shown to characteristically fail in a series of ruptures over decades, rather than a single end-to-end rupture. This behavior has been termed a seismic “supercycle.” Prior to the current rupture sequence, which began in 2007, the segment previously ruptured during the 14th century, the late 16th to late 17th century, and most recently during historical earthquakes in 1797 and 1833. In this study, we examine each of these previous supercycles in turn.

First, we expand upon previous analysis of the 1797–1833 rupture sequence with a comprehensive review of previously published coral microatoll data and the addition of a significant amount of new data. We present detailed maps of coseismic uplift during the two great earthquakes and of interseismic deformation during the periods 1755–1833 and 1950–1997 and models of the corresponding slip and coupling on the underlying megathrust. We derive magnitudes of Mw 8.7–9.0 for the two historical earthquakes, and determine that the 1797 earthquake fundamentally changed the state of coupling on the fault for decades afterward. We conclude that while major earthquakes generally do not involve rupture of the entire Mentawai segment, they undoubtedly influence the progression of subsequent ruptures, even beyond their own rupture area. This concept is of vital importance for monitoring and forecasting the progression of the modern rupture sequence.

Turning our attention to the 14th century, we present evidence of a shallow slip event in approximately A.D. 1314, which preceded the “conventional” megathrust rupture sequence. We calculate a suite of slip models, slightly deeper and/or larger than the 2010 Pagai Islands earthquake, that are consistent with the large amount of subsidence recorded at our study site. Sea-level records from older coral microatolls suggest that these events occur at least once every millennium, but likely far less frequently than their great downdip neighbors. The revelation that shallow slip events are important contributors to the seismic cycle of the Mentawai segment further complicates our understanding of this subduction megathrust and our assessment of the region’s exposure to seismic and tsunami hazards.

Finally, we present an outline of the complex intervening rupture sequence that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, which involved at least five distinct uplift events. We conclude that each of the supercycles had unique features, and all of the types of fault behavior we observe are consistent with highly heterogeneous frictional properties of the megathrust beneath the south-central Mentawai Islands. We conclude that the heterogeneous distribution of asperities produces terminations and overlap zones between fault ruptures, resulting in the seismic “supercycle” phenomenon.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:megathrust; subduction zone; paleoseismology; earthquake; deformation; coral; Mentawai Islands; Sumatra; Indonesia;
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Sieh, Kerry E. (co-advisor)
  • Avouac, Jean-Philippe (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Asimow, Paul David (chair)
  • Sieh, Kerry E.
  • Avouac, Jean-Philippe
  • Simons, Mark
  • Stock, Joann M.
Defense Date:29 May 2013
Non-Caltech Author Email:bphilibo (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06072013-041618148
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7861
Deposited By: Belle Philibosian
Deposited On:07 Jun 2013 23:35
Last Modified:12 Nov 2021 20:24

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