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Complexity of Rupture Propagation in Large Earthquakes in Relation to Tectonic Environment


Stewart, Gordon Selbie (1982) Complexity of Rupture Propagation in Large Earthquakes in Relation to Tectonic Environment. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/9d84-pr40.


Complexity in the earthquake rupture process can result from many factors. This study investigates the origin of such complexity by examining several recent, large earthquakes in detail. In each case the local tectonic environment plays an important role in understanding the source of the complexity.

Several large shallow earthquakes (Ms > 7.0) along the Middle American Trench have similarities and differences between them that may lead to a better understanding of fracture and subduction processes. They are predominantly thrust events consistent with the known subduction of the Cocos plate beneath N. America. Two events occurring along this subduction zone close to triple junctions show considerable complexity. This may be attributable to a more heterogeneous stress environment in these regions and as such has implications for other subduction zone boundaries.

An event which looks complex but is actually rather simple is the 1978 Bermuda earthquake (Ms ~ 6). It is located predominantly in the mantle. Its mechanism is one of pure thrust faulting with a strike N 20°W and dip 42°NE. Its apparent complexity is caused by local crustal structure. This is an important event in terms of understanding and estimating seismic hazard on the eastern seaboard of N. America.

A study of several large strike-slip continental earthquakes identifies characteristics which are common to them and may be useful in determining what to expect from the next great earthquake on the San Andreas fault. The events are the 1976 Guatemala earthquake on the Motagua fault and two events on the Anatolian fault in Turkey (the 1967, Mudurnu Valley and 1976, E. Turkey events). An attempt to model the complex P-waveforms of these events results in good synthetic fits for the Guatemala and Mudurnu Valley events. However, the E. Turkey event proves to be too complex as it may have associated thrust or normal faulting. Several individual sources occurring at intervals of between 5 and 20 seconds characterize the Guatemala and Mudurnu Valley events. The maximum size of an individual source appears to be bounded at about 5 x 1026 dyne-cm. A detailed source study including directivity is performed on the Guatemala event. The source time history of the Mudurnu Valley event illustrates its significance in modeling strong ground motion in the near field. The complex source time series of the 1967 event produces amplitudes greater by a factor of 2.5 than a uniform model scaled to the same size for a station 20 km from the fault.

Three large and important earthquakes demonstrate an important type of complexity --- multiple-fault complexity. The first, the 1976 Philippine earthquake, an oblique thrust event, represents the first seismological evidence for a northeast dipping subduction zone beneath the island of Mindanao. A large event, following the mainshock by 12 hours, occurred outside the aftershock area and apparently resulted from motion on a subsidiary fault since the event had a strike-slip mechanism.

An aftershock of the great 1960 Chilean earthquake on June 6, 1960, proved to be an interesting discovery. It appears to be a large strike-slip event at the main rupture's southern boundary. It most likely occurred on the landward extension of the Chile Rise transform fault, in the subducting plate. The results for this event suggest that a small event triggered a series of slow events; the duration of the whole sequence being longer than 1 hour. This is indeed a "slow earthquake".

Perhaps one of the most complex of events is the recent Tangshan, China event. It began as a large strike-slip event. Within several seconds of the mainshock it may have triggered thrust faulting to the south of the epicenter. There is no doubt, however, that it triggered a large oblique normal event to the northeast, 15 hours after the mainshock. This event certainly contributed to the great loss of life-sustained as a result of the Tangshan earthquake sequence.

What has been learned from these studies has been applied to predict what one might expect from the next great earthquake on the San Andreas. The expectation from this study is that such an event would be a large complex event, not unlike, but perhaps larger than, the Guatemala or Mudurnu Valley events. That is to say, it will most likely consist of a series of individual events in sequence. It is also quite possible that the event could trigger associated faulting on neighboring fault systems such as those occurring in the Transverse Ranges. This has important bearing on the earthquake hazard estimation for the region.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Geophysics
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Helmberger, Donald V.
Thesis Committee:
  • Helmberger, Donald V. (chair)
  • Anderson, Donald L.
  • Ahrens, Thomas J.
  • Kanamori, Hiroo
  • Sieh, Kerry E.
Defense Date:28 August 1981
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:02042015-163349497
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8766
Deposited By: Benjamin Perez
Deposited On:05 Feb 2015 15:48
Last Modified:16 Apr 2021 22:12

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