Accelerated Seismic Release and Related Aspects of Seismicity Patterns on Earthquake Faults

Yehuda Ben-Zion

Published August 2002, SCEC Contribution #589

Observational studies indicate that large earthquakes are sometimes preceded by phases of accelerated seismic release (ASR) characterized by cumulative Benioff strain following a power law time-to-failure relation with a term (tfmt)m, where tf is the failure time of the large event and observed values of m are close to 0.3. We discuss properties of ASR and related aspects of seismicity patterns associated with several theoretical frameworks. The subcritical crack growth approach developed to describe deformation on a crack prior to the occurrence of dynamic rupture predicts great variability and low asymptotic values of the exponent m that are not compatible with observed ASR phases. Statistical physics studies assuming that system-size failures in a deforming region correspond to critical phase transitions predict establishment of long-range correlations of dynamic variables and power-law statistics before large events. Using stress and earthquake histories simulated by the model of Ben-Zion (1996) for a discrete fault with quenched heterogeneities in a 3-D elastic half space, we show that large model earthquakes are associated with nonrepeating cyclical establishment and destruction of long-range stress correlations, accompanied by nonstationary cumulative Benioff strain release. We then analyze results associated with a regional lithospheric model consisting of a seismogenic upper crust governed by the damage rheology of Lyakhovsky et al. (1997) over a viscoelastic substrate. We demonstrate analytically for a simplified 1-D case that the employed damage rheology leads to a singular power-law equation for strain proportional to (tfmt)m1/3, and a nonsingular power-law relation for cumulative Benioff strain proportional to (tfmt)1/3. A simple approximate generalization of the latter for regional cumulative Benioff strain is obtained by adding to the result a linear function of time representing a stationary background release. To go beyond the analytical expectations, we examine results generated by various realizations of the regional lithospheric model producing seismicity following the characteristic frequency-size statistics, Gutenberg-Richter power-law distribution, and mode switching activity. We find that phases of ASR exist only when the seismicity preceding a given large event has broad frequency-size statistics. In such cases the simulated ASR phases can be fitted well by the singular analytical relation with m = m1/3, the nonsingular equation with m = 0.2, and the generalized version of the latter including a linear term with m = 1/3. The obtained good fits with all three relations highlight the difficulty of deriving reliable information on functional forms and parameter values from such data sets. The activation process in the simulated ASR phases is found to be accommodated both by increasing rates of moderate events and increasing average event size, with the former starting a few years earlier than the latter. The lack of ASR in portions of the seismicity not having broad frequency-size statistics may explain why some large earthquakes are preceded by ASR and other are not. The results suggest that observations of moderate and large events contain two complementary end-member predictive signals on the time of future large earthquakes. In portions of seismicity following the characteristic earthquake distribution, such information exists directly in the associated quasi-periodic temporal distribution of large events. In portions of seismicity having broad frequency-size statistics with random or clustered temporal distribution of large events, the ASR phases have predictive information. The extent to which natural seismicity may be understood in terms of these end-member cases remains to be clarified. Continuing studies of evolving stress and other dynamic variables in model calculations combined with advanced analyses of simulated and observed seismicity patterns may lead to improvements in existing forecasting strategies.

Key Words
focal mechanism, seismicity, statistical analysis, techtonics, earthquakes, faults, seismotectonics

Ben-Zion, Y. (2002). Accelerated Seismic Release and Related Aspects of Seismicity Patterns on Earthquake Faults. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 159(10), 2385-2412. doi: 10.1007/s00024-002-8740-9.