Measuring the onset of locking in the Peru-Chile trench with GPS and acoustic measurements

Gagnon, K, Chadwell CD, Norabuena E.  2005.  Measuring the onset of locking in the Peru-Chile trench with GPS and acoustic measurements. Nature. 434:205-208.

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earthquakes, global positioning system, japan, motions, nazca-south america, plate velocities, subduction zones, updip


The subduction zone off the west coast of South America marks the convergence of the oceanic Nazca plate and the continental South America plate. Nazca - South America convergence over the past 23 million years has created the 6-km-deep Peru - Chile trench, 150 km offshore. High pressure between the plates creates a locked zone, leading to deformation of the overriding plate. The surface area of this locked zone is thought to control the magnitude of co-seismic release and is limited by pressure, temperature, sediment type and fluid content(1). Here we present seafloor deformation data from the submerged South America plate obtained from a combination of Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and acoustic transponders. We estimate that the measured horizontal surface motion perpendicular to the trench is consistent with a model having no slip along the thrust fault between 2 and 40 km depth. A tsunami in 1996, 200 km north of our site, was interpreted as being the result of an anomalously shallow interplate earthquake(2). Seismic coupling at shallow depths, such as we observe, may explain why co-seismic events in the Peruvian subduction zone create large tsunamis.