Earthquake Report: Burma!

There was an earthquake in Burma today! The epicenter plotted very close to the Sagaing fault (SF), a major dextral (right-lateral) strike-slip fault system, part of the plate boundary between the India and Eurasia plates. This fault system accommodates much of the dextral relative movement between these two plates.

I initially thought this would be a strike-slip earthquake. However, the USGS fault plane solution (moment tensor, read more about them below) shows that this was a thrust (compressional) earthquake. There is a region of uplift to the west of the SF, where there is a fold and thrust belt (the Bago-Yoma Range). This region may be experiencing compression due to the relative plate motion here and the orientation of the SF (strain partitioning). There is a GPS rate map below that shows geodetic motion oblique to the SF, showing compression.

There were two M 7.2 and M 7.4 earthquakes just to the southeast in 1930 and an earthquake in 1994. The 1994 earthquake was a dextral strike-slip earthquake, but the 1930 earthquakes are too old to have this type of analytical results on the USGS website (see Sloan et al., 2017 figure below for the M 7.3 1930 earthquake, which shows a strike-slip mechanism).

Below is my interpretive poster

I plot the seismicity from the past month, with color representing depth and diameter representing magnitude (see legend). I include earthquake epicenters from 1918-2018 with magnitudes M ≥ 6.5 (and down to M ≥ 4.5 in a second poster).

I plot the USGS fault plane solutions (moment tensors in blue and focal mechanisms in orange) for the M 6.0 earthquake, in addition to some relevant historic earthquakes.

  • I placed a moment tensor / focal mechanism legend on the poster. There is more material from the USGS web sites about moment tensors and focal mechanisms (the beach ball symbols). Both moment tensors and focal mechanisms are solutions to seismologic data that reveal two possible interpretations for fault orientation and sense of motion. One must use other information, like the regional tectonics, to interpret which of the two possibilities is more likely.
  • I also include the shaking intensity contours on the map. These use the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (MMI; see the legend on the map). This is based upon a computer model estimate of ground motions, different from the “Did You Feel It?” estimate of ground motions that is actually based on real observations. The MMI is a qualitative measure of shaking intensity. More on the MMI scale can be found here and here. This is based upon a computer model estimate of ground motions, different from the “Did You Feel It?” estimate of ground motions that is actually based on real observations.
  • I include the slab contours plotted (Hayes et al., 2012), which are contours that represent the depth to the subduction zone fault. These are mostly based upon seismicity. The depths of the earthquakes have considerable error and do not all occur along the subduction zone faults, so these slab contours are simply the best estimate for the location of the fault.

    I include some inset figures.

    • In the upper left corner, is a map from Maurin and Rangin (2009) that shows the regional tectonics at a regional scale. The Sunda Trench is formed along the Sumatra-Andaman subduction zone, where the India plate subducts beneath the Eurasia, Burma, and Sunda plates. The Sagaing fault is the right-lateral strike-slip plate boundary fault between the Burma and Sunda plates. The black arrows show the relative plate motions between the India : Sunda and India : Burma plates. The Sagaing fault links with the Sumatra fault via the Andaman spreading ridge system. I place a blue star in the general location of today’s earthquake sequence.
    • To the right of the Maurin and Rangin (2009) map is a map from Wang et al (2014) that shows how the Sangaing fault can be broken up into segments. Warm colors are higher elevation than cooler colors. Other than national boundaries, red and black lines represent faults. I place a blue star in the general location of today’s earthquake sequence.
    • In the lower left corner is a figure from Sloan et al. (2017) that shows the fault systems here along with the GPS derived plate motions. On the left, we can see the triangle-barbed red lines, which are ~north-south striking thrust faults in the Indo-Burmese Wedge (“Ranges” on the map). I place a blue star in the general location of today’s earthquake sequence.
    • In the lower right corner is a large scale view of the earthquake faults and historic seismicity of this region (Wang et al., 2014). These authors also plotted some moment tensor data for historic earthquakes. I place a blue star in the general location of today’s earthquake sequence.
    • In the upper right corner is a map showing historic earthquakes on the Sagaing fault (Hurukawa and Maung, 2011). The right panel shows where the authors hypothesize that there is a seismic gap north of 20 degrees latitude, north of where this M 6.0 earthquake happened. I place a blue star in the general location of today’s earthquake sequence.

  • Here is the same map for USGS historic seismicity for earthquakes M ≥ 4.5. This map shows nicely how seismicity gets deeper to the east along the Sumatra-Andaman subduction zone (the Sunda Trench) along the southern part of the poster. This also shows how seismicity also deepens to the east along the Indo-Burmese we3dge (IBW), which is the convergent plate boundary system to the west of the SF.

USGS Earthquake Pages

Some Relevant Discussion and Figures

  • Here is a map from Maurin and Rangin (2009) that shows the regional tectonics at a larger scale. They show how the Burma and Sunda plates are configured, along with the major plate boundary faults and tectonic features (ninetyeast ridge). The plate motion vectors for India vs Sunda (I/S) and India vs Burma (I/B) are shown in the middle of the map. Note the Sunda trench is a subduction zone, and the IBW is also a zone of convergence. There is still some debate about the sense of motion of the plate boundary between these two systems. This map shows it as strike slip, though there is evidence that this region slipped as a subduction zone (not strike-slip) during the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman subduction zone earthquake. I include their figure caption as a blockquote below.

  • Structural fabric of the Bay of Bengal with its present kinematic setting. Shaded background is the gravity map from Sandwell and Smith [1997]. Fractures and magnetic anomalies in black color are from Desa et al.[2006]. Dashed black lines are inferred oceanic fracture zones which directions are deduced from Desa et al. in the Bay of Bengal and from the gravity map east of the 90E Ridge. We have flagged particularly the 90E and the 85E ridges (thick black lines). Gray arrow shows the Indo-Burmese Wedge (indicated as a white and blue hatched area) growth direction discussed in this paper. For kinematics, black arrows show the motion of the India Plate with respect to the Burma Plate and to the Sunda Plate (I/B and I/S, respectively). The Eurasia, Burma, and Sunda plates are represented in green, blue, and red, respectively.

  • Here is a different cross section that shows how Maurin and Rangin (2009) interpret this plate boundary to have an oblique sense of motion (it is a subduction zone with some strike slip motion). Typically, these different senses of motion would be partitioned into different fault systems (read about forearc sliver faults, like the Sumatra fault. I mention this in my report about the earthquakes in the Andaman Sea from 2015.07.02). This cross section is further to the south than the one on the interpretation map above. I include their figure caption as a blockquote below.

  • Present cross section based on industrial multichannel seismics and field observations. The seismicity from USGS catalog and Engdahl [2002] is represented as black dots. Focal mechanisms from Global CMT ( catalog are also represented.

  • This figure shows the interpretation from Maurin and Rangin (2009) about how the margin has evolved over the past 10 Ma.

  • Cartoon showing the tectonic evolution of the Indo-Burmese Wedge from late Miocene to present.

  • Wang et al. (2014) also have a very detailed map showing historic earthquakes along the major fault systems in this region. They also interpret the plate boundary into different sections, with different ratios of convergence:shear. I include their figure caption as a blockquote below.

  • Simplified neotectonic map of the Myanmar region. Black lines encompass the six neotectonic domains that we have defined. Green and Yellow dots show epicenters of the major twentieth century earthquakes (source: Engdahl and Villasenor [2002]). Green and yellow beach balls are focal mechanisms of significant modern earthquakes (source: GCMT database since 1976). Pink arrows show the relative plate motion between the Indian and Burma plates modified from several plate motion models [Kreemer et al., 2003a; Socquet et al., 2006; DeMets et al., 2010]. The major faults west of the eastern Himalayan syntax are adapted from Leloup et al. [1995] and Tapponnier et al. [2001]. Yellow triangle shows the uncertainty of Indian-Burma plate-motion direction.

  • Here is the map showing the SF fault segments (Wang et al., 2014).

  • Fault segments and historical earthquakes along the central and southern parts of the Sagaing fault. Green dots show relocated epicenters from Hurukawa and Phyo Maung Maung [2011]. Dashed and solid gray boxes surround segments of the fault that ruptured in historical events. NTf = Nanting fault; Lf = Lashio fault; KMf = Kyaukme fault; PYf = Pingdaya fault; TGf = Taunggyi fault.

  • Here is the Curray (2005) plate tectonic map.

  • Tectonic map of part of the northeastern Indian Ocean. Modified from Curray (1991).

  • Here is the Sloan et al. (2017) map showing the faults and GPS derived plate motion.

  • Seismotectonic map of Myanmar (Burma) and surroundings. Faults are from Taylor & Yin (2009) with minor additions and adjustments. GPS vectors show velocities relative to a fixed India from Vernant et al. (2014), Gahalaut et al. (2013), Maurin et al. (2010) and Gan et al. (2007). Coloured circles indicateMw > 5 earthquakes from the EHB catalogue. Grey events are listed for depths <50 km, yellow for depths of 50–100 km and red for depths >100 km. The band of yellow and red earthquakes beneath the Indo-Burman Ranges represents the Burma Seismic Zone. The dashed black line shows the line of the cross-section in Figure 2.13. ASRR, Ailao Shan–Red River Shear Zone.

  • Here is a Sloan et al. (2017) map that shows fault plane solutions (including the 1930 M 7.3 SF earthquake) for earthquakes in the region.

  • Seismotectonic map of Myanmar (Burma). Faults are from Taylor & Yin (2009) with minor additions and adjustments. GPS vectors show velocities relative to a fixed Eurasia from Maurin et al. (2010). Slip rate estimates on the Sagaing Fault are given in blue and are from a, Bertrand et al. (1998); b, Vigny et al. (2003); c, Maurin et al. (2010); and d, Wang et al. (2011). Major earthquakes (Ms ≥7) are shown by yellow stars for the period 1900–76 from International Seismological Centre (2011) and by red stars for the period 1836–1900 from Le Dain et al. (1984). The location and magnitude of theMb 7.5 1946 earthquake is taken from Hurukawa&Maung Maung (2011). Earthquake focal mechanisms are taken from the GCMT catalogue (Ekström et al. 2005) and show Mw ≥5.5 earthquakes, listed as being shallower than 30 km in the period 1976–2014. IR, Irrawaddy River; CR, Chindwin River; HV, Hukawng Valley; UKS, Upper Kachin State; SF, Sagaing Fault; KF, Koma Fault. The inset panel is an enlargement of the area within the dashed grey box. It shows the dense GPS network in this area.

  • This map shows that the region where today’s M 6.0 earthquake is located is in the region of uplifted regions along the SF.

  • Regional setting, and fault geometries and uplift distribution associated with the Sagaing Fault.

  • Here is a comprehensive map showing the complicated tectonics of this region (Sloan et al., 2017).

  • Regional tectonic setting of the Andaman Sea Region modified from Morley (2017). See text for explanation of labels A–E. The locations of Figures 2.15– 2.17 are indicated.

  • This map shows how Rangin (2017) hypothesizes about the platelets formed along the plate boundary.

  • Extension of the Burma–Andaman–Sumatra microplate (shown in green). The Burma Platelet is the northern part in Myanmar. Active faults are shown in red and inactive faults in purple. The post-Santonian magnetic anomalies and associated transform faults of the Indian and Australian plates are suggested in blue. Left-lateral red arrows along the 90° E Ridge illustrate left-lateral motion between the Indian and Australian plates. India/Eurasia relative motion is shown with a yellow arrow, India/Sunda motion with purple arrows and Australia/Sunda motion with black arrows (modified from Rangin 2016).

  • This is a great summary figure from Ranging (2017) showing how these plates and platelets interact in this region.

  • Structural map of the active buckling of the Burma Platelet considered not to be rigid. The curved Sagaing Fault, Lelong, Kaladan and coastal faults outline this arched platelet. WSW extrusion of the platelet is outlined by the NE–SW diffuse dextral shear south of the South Assam Shear Zone into the north and by the left lateral Pyay-Prome shear zone in the south. The western margin (CSM: collapsing Sunda margin) of this platelet is affected by dextral wrench and active collapse of the continental margin, but no sign of active subduction was found. This platelet is bracketed tectonically between the drifted 90° E Ridge and the accreted volcanic ridges into the south and the Eurasian Buttress (Himalayas and Shillong) into the north. The East Himalaya Crustal Flow (EHCF; large curved red arrow) imaged in the East Himalaya Syntaxis (EHS) is induced by the Tibet Plateau collapse and could be an important component of the tectonic force causing the platelet buckling. The Burma Platelet is jammed between the Accreted Volcanic Ridges in the south, and the Shillong Plateau crustal block in the north, participate to the buckling of the Myanmar Platelet. BBacc, Bay of Bengal attenuated continental crust (Rangin & Sibuet 2017); CMB, Central Myanmar Basins; CMF, Churachandpur-Mao Fault (Gahalaut et al. 2013).


  • Curray, J.R., 2005. Tectonics and history of the Andaman Sea Region in Journal of Asian Earth Sciences, v. 25, p. 187-232.
  • Hayes, G. P., D. J. Wald, and R. L. Johnson, 2012. Slab1.0: A three-dimensional model of global subduction zone geometries, J. Geophys. Res., 117, B01302, doi:10.1029/2011JB008524.
  • Hurukawa, N. and Maung, P.M., 2011. Two seismic gaps on the Sagaing Fault, Myanmar, derived from relocation of historical earthquakes since 1918 in GRL, v. 38, L01310, doi:10.1029/2010GL046099
  • Maurin, T. and Rangin, C., 2009. Structure and kinematics of the Indo-Burmese Wedge: Recent and fast growth of the outer wedge in Tectonics, v. 28, TC2010, doi:10.1029/2008TC002276
  • Rangin, C., 2017. Active and recent tectonics of the Burma Platelet in Myanmar in BARBER, A. J., KHIN ZAW & CROW, M. J. (eds) 2017. Myanmar: Geology, Resources and Tectonics. Geological Society, London, Memoirs, v. 48, p. 53–64,
  • Sloan, R.A., Elliot, J.R., Searle, M.P., and Morley, C.K., 2017. Active tectonics of Myanmar and the Andaman Sea in BARBER, A. J., KHIN ZAW & CROW, M. J. (eds) 2017. Myanmar: Geology, Resources and Tectonics. Geological Society, London, Memoirs, v. 48, p. 19–52,
  • Wang, Y., K. Sieh, S. T. Tun, K.-Y. Lai, and T. Myint, 2014. Active tectonics and earthquake potential of the Myanmar region in J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth, 119, 3767–3822, doi:10.1002/2013JB010762.
Category(s): asia, collision, earthquake, education, geology, Indian Ocean, plate tectonics, strike-slip

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