Letter | Published:

The 11 April 2012 east Indian Ocean earthquake triggered large aftershocks worldwide

Nature volume 490, pages 250253 (11 October 2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

Large earthquakes trigger very small earthquakes globally during passage of the seismic waves and during the following several hours to days1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, but so far remote aftershocks of moment magnitude M ≥ 5.5 have not been identified11, with the lone exception of an M = 6.9 quake remotely triggered by the surface waves from an M = 6.6 quake 4,800 kilometres away12. The 2012 east Indian Ocean earthquake that had a moment magnitude of 8.6 is the largest strike-slip event ever recorded. Here we show that the rate of occurrence of remote M ≥ 5.5 earthquakes (>1,500 kilometres from the epicentre) increased nearly fivefold for six days after the 2012 event, and extended in magnitude to M ≤ 7. These global aftershocks were located along the four lobes of Love-wave radiation; all struck where the dynamic shear strain is calculated to exceed 10−7 for at least 100 seconds during dynamic-wave passage. The other M ≥ 8.5 mainshocks during the past decade are thrusts; after these events, the global rate of occurrence of remote M ≥ 5.5 events increased by about one-third the rate following the 2012 shock and lasted for only two days, a weaker but possibly real increase. We suggest that the unprecedented delayed triggering power of the 2012 earthquake may have arisen because of its strike-slip source geometry or because the event struck at a time of an unusually low global earthquake rate, perhaps increasing the number of nucleation sites that were very close to failure.

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Acknowledgements

Epicentres and magnitudes of seismic events were obtained from the NEIC catalogue. Seismic waveform data presented in Supplementary Information were obtained from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Data Management Center. We thank T. Hanks, R. Harris, A. Michael, T. Parsons and P. Stark for their comments on a preliminary draft. V.S. works under contract at the US Geological Survey.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. US Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, MS 977, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA

    • Fred F. Pollitz
    •  & Ross S. Stein
  2. Seismicity.net, 490 Laurel Street, Suite 10, San Carlos, California 94070, USA

    • Volkan Sevilgen
  3. Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • Roland Bürgmann

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Contributions

F.F.P. initiated the study and performed all seismic-wave analysis. F.F.P., R.S.S. and V.S. contributed equally to earthquake catalogue analysis. All authors discussed the results and helped write the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fred F. Pollitz.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Figures

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11504

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