Publications

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2011
Smith-Konter, BR, Sandwell DT, Shearer P.  2011.  Locking depths estimated from geodesy and seismology along the San Andreas Fault System: Implications for seismic moment release. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 116   10.1029/2010jb008117   AbstractWebsite

The depth of the seismogenic zone is a critical parameter for earthquake hazard models. Independent observations from seismology and geodesy can provide insight into the depths of faulting, but these depths do not always agree. Here we inspect variations in fault depths of 12 segments of the southern San Andreas Fault System derived from over 1000 GPS velocities and 66,000 relocated earthquake hypocenters. Geodetically determined locking depths range from 6 to 22 km, while seismogenic thicknesses are largely limited to depths of 11-20 km. These seismogenic depths best match the geodetic locking depths when estimated at the 95% cutoff depth in seismicity, and most fault segment depths agree to within 2 km. However, the Imperial, Coyote Creek, and Borrego segments have significant discrepancies. In these cases the geodetically inferred locking depths are much shallower than the seismogenic depths. We also examine variations in seismic moment accumulation rate per unit fault length as suggested by seismicity and geodesy and find that both approaches yield high rates ( 1.5-1.8 x 10(13) Nm/yr/km) along the Mojave and Carrizo segments and low rates (similar to 0.2 x 1013 Nm/yr/km) along several San Jacinto segments. The largest difference in seismic moment between models is calculated for the Imperial segment, where the moment rate from seismic depths is a factor of similar to 2.5 larger than that from geodetic depths. Such variability has important implications for the accuracy to which future major earthquake magnitudes can be estimated.

1997
Smith, WHF, Sandwell DT.  1997.  Global sea floor topography from satellite altimetry and ship depth soundings. Science. 277:1956-1962.   10.1126/science.277.5334.1956   AbstractWebsite

A digital bathymetric map of the oceans with a horizontal resolution of 1 to 12 kilometers was derived by combining available depth soundings with high-resolution marine gravity information from the Geosat and ERS-1 spacecraft. Previous global bathymetric maps lacked features such as the 1600-kilometer-long Foundation Seamounts chain in the South Pacific. This map shows relations among the distributions of depth, sea floor area, and sea floor age that do not fit the predictions of deterministic models of subsidence due to lithosphere cooling but may be explained by a stochastic model in which randomly distributed reheating events warm the lithosphere and raise the ocean floor.

1996
Levitt, DA, Sandwell DT.  1996.  Modal depth anomalies from multibeam bathymetry: Is there a south Pacific superswell? Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 139:1-16.   10.1016/0012-821x(95)00247-a   AbstractWebsite

A region west of the southern East Pacific Rise (SEPR), between the Marquesas and Austral Fracture Zones has previously been found to exhibit anomalous depth-age behavior, based on gridded bathymetry and single-beam soundings. Since gridded bathymetry has been shown to be unsuitable for some geophysical analysis and since the area is characterized by unusually robust volcanism, the magnitude and regional extent of depth anomalies over the young eastern flank of the so called 'South Pacific Superswell' are re-examined using a mode-seeking estimation procedure on data obtained from several recent multibeam surveys. The modal technique estimates a representative seafloor depth, based on the assumption that bathymetry from non-edifice and edifice-populated seafloor has a low and a high standard deviation, respectively. Flat seafloor depth values are concentrated in a few bins which correspond to the mode. This method estimates a representative seafloor value even on seafloor for which more than 90% of coverage is dominated by ridge and seamount clusters, where the mean and median estimates may be shallow by hundreds of meters. Where volcanism-related bias is moderate, the mode, mean and median estimates are close. Depth-age results indicate that there is only a small anomaly (< 200 m) over 15-35 Ma Pacific Plate seafloor with little age-dependent shallowing, suggesting that the lithosphere east of the main hot-spot locations on the 'superswell' is normal. An important implication is that, in sparsely surveyed areas, depths from ETOPO-5 are significantly different from true depths even at large scales (similar to 1000 km) and thus are unsuitable for investigations of anomalies associated with depth-age regressions. We find that seafloor slopes on conjugate profiles of the Pacific and Nazca Plates from 15 to 35 Ma are both slightly lower than normal, but are within the global range. Proximate to the SEPR, seafloor slopes are very low (218 m Myr(-1/2)) on the Pacific Plate (0-22 Ma) and slightly high (similar to 410 m Myr(-1/2)) on the Nazca Plate (0-8 Ma); slopes for older Pacific seafloor (22-37 Ma) are near normal (399 m Myr(-1/2)). Seafloor slopes are even lower north of the Marquesas Fracture Zone but are highly influenced by the Marquesas Swell. We find that the low subsidence rate on young Pacific seafloor cannot be explained by a local hot-spot or a small-scale convective model exclusively and a stretching/thickening model requires implausible crustal thickness variation (similar to 30%).

1995
Levitt, DA, Sandwell DT.  1995.  Lithospheric Bending at Subduction Zones Based on Depth Soundings and Satellite Gravity. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 100:379-400.   10.1029/94jb02468   AbstractWebsite

A global study of trench flexure was performed by simultaneously modeling 117 bathymetric profiles (original depth soundings) and satellite-derived gravity profiles. A thin, elastic plate flexure model was fit to each bathymetry/gravity profile by minimization of the L(1) norm. The six model parameters were regional depth, regional gravity, trench axis location, flexural wavelength, flexural amplitude, and lithospheric density. A regional tilt parameter was not required after correcting for age-related trend using a new high-resolution age map. Estimates of the density parameter confirm that most outer rises are uncompensated. We find that flexural wavelength is not an accurate estimate of plate thickness because of the high curvatures observed at a majority of trenches. As in previous studies, we find that the gravity data favor a longer-wavelength flexure than the bathymetry data. A joint topography-gravity modeling scheme and fit criteria are used to limit acceptable parameter values to models for which topography and gravity yield consistent results. Even after the elastic thicknesses are converted to mechanical thicknesses using the yield strength envelope model, residual scatter obscures the systematic increase of mechanical thickness with age; perhaps this reflects the combination of uncertainties inherent in estimating flexural wavelength, such as extreme inelastic bending and accumulated thermoelastic stress. The bending moment needed to support the trench and outer rise topography increases by a factor of 10 as lithospheric age increases from 20 to 150 Ma; this reflects the increase in saturation bending moment that the lithosphere can maintain. Using a stiff, dry-olivine theology, we find that the lithosphere of the GDH1 thermal model (Stein and Stein, 1992) is too hot and thin to maintain the observed bending moments. Moreover, the regional depth seaward of the oldest trenches (similar to 150 Ma) exceeds the GDH1 model depths by about 400 m.

1994
Johnson, CL, Sandwell DT.  1994.  Lithospheric Flexure on Venus. Geophysical Journal International. 119:627-647.   10.1111/j.1365-246X.1994.tb00146.x   AbstractWebsite

Topographic flexural signatures on Venus are generally associated with the outer edges of coronae, with some chasmata and with rift zones. Using Magellan altimetry profiles and grids of venusian topography, we identified 17 potential flexure sites. Both 2-D cartesian, and 2-D axisymmetric, thin-elastic plate models were used to establish the flexural parameter and applied load/bending moment. These parameters can be used to infer the thickness, strength and possibly the dynamics of the venusian lithosphere. Numerical simulations show that the 2-D model provides an accurate representation of the flexural parameter as long as the radius of the feature is several times the flexural parameter. However, an axisymmetric model must be used to obtain a reliable estimate of load/bending moment. 12 of the 17 areas were modelled with a 2-D thin elastic plate model, yielding best-fit effective elastic thicknesses in the range 12 to 34 km. We find no convincing evidence for flexure around smaller coronae, though five possible candidates have been identified. These five features show circumferential topographic signatures which, if interpreted as flexure, yield mean elastic thicknesses ranging from 6 to 22 km. We adopt a yield strength envelope for the venusian lithosphere based on a dry olivine rheology and on the additional assumption that strain rates on Venus are similar to, or lower than, strain rates on Earth. Many of the flexural signatures correspond to relatively high plate-bending curvatures so the upper and lower parts of the lithosphere should theoretically exhibit brittle fracture and flow, respectively. For areas where the curvatures are not too extreme, the estimated elastic thickness is used to estimate the larger mechanical thickness of the lithosphere. The large amplitude flexures in Aphrodite Terra predict complete failure of the plate, rendering mechanical thickness estimates from these features unreliable. One smaller corona also yielded an unreliable mechanical thickness estimate based on the marginal quality of the profile data. Reliable mechanical thicknesses found by forward modelling in this study are 21 km-37 km, significantly greater than the 13 km-20 km predictions based on heat-flow scaling arguments and chondritic thermal models. If the modelled topography is the result of lithospheric flexure, then our results for mechanical thickness, combined with the lack of evidence for flexure around smaller features, are consistent with a venusian lithosphere somewhat thicker than predicted. Dynamical models for bending of a viscous lithosphere at low strain rates predict a thick lithosphere, also consistent with low temperature gradients. Recent laboratory measurements indicate that dry crustal materials are much stronger than previously believed. Corresponding time-scales for gravitational relaxation are 10(8)-10(9) yr, making gravitational relaxation an unlikely mechanism for the generation of the few inferred flexural features. If dry olivine is also found to be stronger than previously believed, the mechanical thickness estimates for Venus will be reduced, and will be more consistent with the predictions of global heat scaling models.