Earthquake source parameters for the 2010 western Gulf of Aden rifting episode

Shuler, Ashley Elizabeth; Nettles, Meredith K.

On 2010 November 14, an intense swarm of earthquakes began in the western Gulf of Aden. Within a 48-hr period, 82 earthquakes with magnitudes between 4.5 and 5.5 were reported along an ∼80-km-long segment of the east-west trending Aden Ridge, making this swarm one of the largest ever observed in an extensional oceanic setting. In this study, we calculate centroid-moment-tensor solutions for 110 earthquakes that occurred between 2010 November and 2011 April. Over 80 per cent of the cumulative seismic moment results from earthquakes that occurred within 1 week of the onset of the swarm. We find that this sequence has a b-value of ∼1.6 and is dominated by normal-faulting earthquakes that, early in the swarm, migrate westwards with time. These earthquakes are located in rhombic basins along a section of the ridge that was previously characterized by low levels of seismicity and a lack of recent volcanism on the seafloor. Body-wave modelling demonstrates that the events occur in the top 2-3 km of the crust. Nodal planes of the normal-faulting earthquakes are consistent with previously mapped faults in the axial valley. A small number of strike-slip earthquakes observed between two basins near 44°E, where the axial valley changes orientation, depth and width, likely indicate the presence of an incipient transform fault and the early stages of ridge-transform segmentation. The direction of extension accommodated by the earthquakes is intermediate between the rift orthogonal and the direction of relative motion between the Arabian and Somalian plates, consistent with the oblique style of rifting occurring along the slow-spreading Aden Ridge. The 2010 swarm shares many characteristics with dyke-induced rifting episodes from both oceanic and continental settings. We conclude that the 2010 swarm represents the seismic component of an undersea magmatic rifting episode along the nascent Aden Ridge, and attribute the large size of the earthquakes to the combined effects of the slow spreading rate, relatively thick crust and recent quiescence. We estimate that the rifting episode was caused by dyke intrusions that propagated laterally for 12-18 hr, accommodating ∼1-14 m of opening or ∼85-800 yr of spreading along this section of the ridge. Our findings demonstrate the westward propagation of active seafloor spreading into this section of the western Gulf of Aden and illustrate that deformation at the onset of seafloor spreading may be accommodated by discrete episodes of faulting and magmatism. A comparison with similar sequences on land suggests that the 2010 episode may be only the first of several dyke-induced rifting episodes to occur in the western Gulf of Aden.

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Geophysical Journal International

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