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3D fault architecture controls the dynamism of earthquake swarms

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The vibrant evolutionary patterns made by earthquake swarms are incompatible with standard, effectively two-dimensional (2D) models for general fault architecture. We leverage advances in earthquake monitoring with a deep-learning algorithm to image a fault zone hosting a 4-year-long swarm in southern California. We infer that fluids are naturally injected into the fault zone from below and diffuse through strike-parallel channels while triggering earthquakes. A permeability barrier initially limits up-dip swarm migration but ultimately is circumvented. This enables fluid migration within a shallower section of the fault with fundamentally different mechanical properties. Our observations provide high-resolution constraints on the processes by which swarms initiate, grow, and arrest. These findings illustrate how swarm evolution is strongly controlled by 3D variations in fault architecture.

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