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Hurricane Irene’s Impacts on the Aftershock Sequence of the 2011 Mw5.8 Virginia Earthquake

Xiaofeng Meng, Stephen Allman, Zhigang Peng, & T. Gilstrap

Published 2013, SCEC Contribution #1872

Recent studies have shown that typhoon could trigger shallow slow-slip events in Taiwan. However, it is unclear whether such extreme weather events could affect the occurrence of regular earthquakes as well. A good opportunity to test this hypothesis occurred in 2011 when an Mw 5.8 earthquake struck Louisa County, Virginia. This event ruptured a shallow, reverse fault. Roughly 5 days later, hurricane Irene struck the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, which is near the epicentral region of the Virginia mainshock. Because aftershocks listed in the ANSS catalog were incomplete immediately after the main shock, it is very difficult to find the genuine correlation between the seismicity rate changes and hurricane Irene. Hence, we use a recently developed waveform matched filter technique to scan through the continuous seismic data to detect small aftershocks that are previously unidentified. A mixture of 7 temporary stations from the IRIS Ramp deployment and 8 temporary stations deployed by Virginia Tech is used. The temporary stations were set up between 24 to 72 hours following the main shock around its immediate vicinity, which provides us a unique dataset recording the majority aftershock sequence of an intraplate earthquake. We us 80 aftershocks identified by Chapman [2013] as template events and scan through the continuous data from 23 August 2011 through 10 September 2011. So far, we have detected 704 events using a threshold of 12 times the median absolute deviation (MAD), which is ~25 times more than listed in the ANSS catalog. The aftershock rate generally decayed with time as predicted by the Omori's law. A statistically significant increase of seismicity rate is found when hurricane Irene passed by the epicentral region. A possible explanation is that the atmosphere pressure drop unloaded the surface, which brought the reverse faults closer to failure. However, we also identified similar fluctuations of seismicity rate changes at other times. Hence, it is still possible that the seismicity rate increase during the hurricane Irene's passing by could be by coincidence. We are currently in the process of relocating all the newly detected events and investigate if any aftershock migration pattern might relate to the path of hurricane Irene. If true, it would suggest that extreme weather events such as hurricanes could trigger not only slow-slip events, but also regular earthquakes.

Meng, X., Allman, S., Peng, Z., & Gilstrap, T. (2013). Hurricane Irene’s Impacts on the Aftershock Sequence of the 2011 Mw5.8 Virginia Earthquake. Seismological Research Letters, 84(2), 391.