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What causes slow earthquakes?

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Sedgwick Club Conference 2020

Slow earthquakes are transient slip events where fault slip rates start increasing, as if the fault is accelerating into an earthquake. But the slip rates never reach seismic speeds. They max out at values 3 to 7 orders of magnitude slower. Here I assess some of the possible causes of these slow slip rates, which are observed at transient slip events around the world. Various researchers have suggested that the slip rates in slow earthquakes could be limited by (1) mixed brittle and viscous flow, (2) a constraint on the slow earthquake region’s size, or (3) shear-induced dilatancy and fluid flow. I show that we can test these models with two approaches: by examining the range of slow earthquake sizes and slip rates and by probing their responses to tidal and atmospheric loading.

Dr Jessica Hawthorne is an associate professor in geophysics at the University of Oxford. She examines fault slip on a range of scales using seismology, geodesy, earthquake statistics, and frictional modelling. Most recently, her research has focused on improving our understanding of fault structures and slow earthquakes, which occur on small near-surface faults as well as on large subduction zone plate interfaces.

This talk is part of the Sedgwick Club talks series.

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