Seismic evidence of bending and unbending of subducting oceanic crust and the presence of mantle megathrust in the 2004 Great Sumatra earthquake rupture zone

Singh, Satish C.; Chauhan, Ajay P. S.; Calvert, Andrew J.; Hananto, Nugroho; Ghosal, Dibakar; Rai, Abhishek; Carton, Helene D.

In subduction zones the plate interface (megathrust) is typically poorly imaged at depths > 12 km, however its precise geometry and nature as well as the positions of updip and downdip limits of the seismogenic zone are important elements to understand the generation of megathrust earthquakes. Using deep marine seismic reflection and refraction data, we observed discontinuous reflections off the top of the subducting oceanic crust down to 60 km depth in the 2004 great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake rupture zone. We find that the top of the downgoing plate does not dip gently into the subduction zone but instead displays a staircase geometry with three successive, 5–15 km vertical steps, spaced ~ 50 km apart. Micro-earthquake data indicate that most of the seismicity lies below this interface, suggesting that the oceanic plate is deforming actively. Along part of the profile, we also image a second reflector located 8–10 km below the top of the oceanic crust. The forward modelling of the gravity data along the profile supports the presence of a high-density material above this reflector. The presence of a staircase shape for the top of the oceanic crust, together with constraints from gravity data and earthquake data, require that the megathrust goes through this second reflector. This leads us to conclude that the megathrust is at least partly located in the oceanic mantle and that underplating of oceanic crust beneath the wedge and underplating of upper mantle beneath the forearc basin are taking place in this region.


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Earth and Planetary Science Letters

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Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Published Here
March 28, 2012