Depth-varying seismogenesis on an oceanic detachment fault at 13°20'N on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
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Extension at slow- and intermediate-spreading mid-ocean ridges is commonly accommodated through slip on long-lived faults called oceanic detachments. These curved, convex-upward faults consist of a steeply-dipping section thought to be rooted in the lower crust or upper mantle which rotates to progressively shallower dip-angles at shallower depths. The commonly-observed result is a domed, subhorizontal oceanic core complex at the seabed. Although it is accepted that detachment faults can accumulate kilometre-scale offsets over millions of years, the mechanism of slip, and their capacity to sustain the shear stresses necessary to produce large earthquakes, remains debated. Here we present a comprehensive seismological study of an active oceanic detachment fault system on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge near 13°20'N, combining the results from a local ocean-bottom seismograph deployment with waveform inversion of a series of larger teleseismically-observed earthquakes. The unique coincidence of these two datasets provides a comprehensive definition of rupture on the fault, from the uppermost mantle to the seabed. Our results demonstrate that although slip on the deep, steeply-dipping portion of detachment faults is accommodated by failure in numerous microearthquakes, the shallow, gently-dipping section of the fault within the upper few kilometres is relatively strong, and is capable of producing large-magnitude earthquakes. This result brings into question the current paradigm that the shallow sections of oceanic detachment faults are dominated by low-friction mineralogies and therefore slip aseismically, but is consistent with observations from continental detachment faults. Slip on the shallow portion of active detachment faults at relatively low angles may therefore account for many more large-magnitude earthquakes at mid-ocean ridges than previously thought, and suggests that the lithospheric strength at slow-spreading mid-ocean ridges may be concentrated at shallow depths.
© The Author(s), 2017. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here under a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license granted to WHOI. It is made available for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was accepted for publication in Earth and Planetary Science Letters 479 (2017): 60-70, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2017.09.020.