Earthquake Report: Bering Kresla / Pacific plate

We just had a large earthquake in the region of the Bering Kresla fracture zone, a strike-slip fault system that coincides with the westernmost portion of the Aleutian trench (which is a subduction zone further to the east).

At first, when I noticed the location, I hypothesized that this may be a strike-slip earthquake. womp womp. The earthquake mechanism from the USGS shows that this M = 7.4 earthquake was a normal fault earthquake (extension).

This earthquake happened in an interesting region of the world where there is a junction between two plate boundaries, the Kamchatka subduction zone with the Aleutian subduction zone / Bering-Kresla Shear Zone. The Kamchatka Trench (KT) is formed by the subduction (a convergent plate boundary) beneath the Okhotsk plate (part of North America). The Aleutian Trench (AT) and Bering-Kresla Shear Zone (BKSZ) are formed by the oblique subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the Pacific plate. There is a deflection in the Kamchatka subduction zone north of the BKSZ, where the subduction trench is offset to the west. Some papers suggest the subduction zone to the north is a fossil (inactive) plate boundary fault system. There are also several strike-slip faults subparallel to the BKSZ to the north of the BKSZ.

Today’s M = 7.4 earthquake shows northwest-southeast directed extension. This is consistent with slab tension in the direction of the Kurile subduction zone. It may also represent extension due to bending in the Pacific plate, but this seems less likely to me. Basically, the Pacific plate, as it subducts beneath the Okhotsk plate, the downgoing slab (the plate) exerts forces on the rest of the plate that pulls it down, into the subduction zone.

A second cool thing about this earthquake is that this may be evidence that the Kuril subduction zone extends north of the intersection of the BKSZ with Kamchatka. I discussed this in my earthquake report from 2017 here.

There are a couple analogy earthquakes, but one is the best. There were several strike-slip earthquakes nearby in 1982, 1987, and 1999. However, there was a M = 6.2 earthquake in almost the same location as the M = 7.4 from today. This M = 6.2 earthquake was slightly deeper (33 km) relative to the M = 7.4 (9.6 km).

Check out my update here

  • 2018.12.20 M 7.4 Bering Kresla UPDATE #1
  • Below is my interpretive poster for this earthquake

    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 ≥ 6.0 in one version.

    I plot the USGS fault plane solutions (moment tensors in blue and focal mechanisms in orange), possibly 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 2.0 contours plotted (Hayes, 2018), 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>

      Magnetic Anomalies

    • In the map below, I include a transparent overlay of the magnetic anomaly data from EMAG2 (Meyer et al., 2017). As oceanic crust is formed, it inherits the magnetic field at the time. At different points through time, the magnetic polarity (north vs. south) flips, the north pole becomes the south pole. These changes in polarity can be seen when measuring the magnetic field above oceanic plates. This is one of the fundamental evidences for plate spreading at oceanic spreading ridges (like the Gorda rise).
    • Regions with magnetic fields aligned like today’s magnetic polarity are colored red in the EMAG2 data, while reversed polarity regions are colored blue. Regions of intermediate magnetic field are colored light purple.

      Age of Oceanic Lithosphere

    • In the map below, I include a transparent overlay of the age of the oceanic crust data from Agegrid V 3 (Müller et al., 2008).
    • Because oceanic crust is formed at oceanic spreading ridges, the age of oceanic crust is youngest at these spreading ridges. The youngest crust is red and older crust is yellow (see legend at the top of this poster).

      I include some inset figures. Some of the same figures are located in different places on the larger scale map below.

    • In the lower right corner I include a map that shows the tectonic setting of this region, with the major plate boundary faults and volcanic arc designated by triangles (Bindeman et al., 2002). I placed a blue star in the general location of the M 7.4 earthquake. Note the complicated nature of the faulting in this region.
    • In the upper left corner I include a figure from Portnyagin and Manea (2008 ) that shows a low angle oblique view of the downgoing Pacific plate slab. I post this figure and their figure caption below.
    • In the upper right corner I include a map that shows more details about the faulting in the region.
    • Here is the map with a month’s seismicity plotted. The lower map shows the age of the crust.

    • Here is the map with a century’s seismicity plotted, with earthquakes M ≥ 6.0. The lower map shows the age of the crust.

    Other Report Pages

    Some Relevant Discussion and Figures

    • Here is the tectonic map from Bindeman et al., 2002. The original figure caption is below in blockquote.

    • Tectonic setting of the Sredinny and Ganal Massifs in Kamchatka. Kamchatka/Aleutian junction is modified after Gaedicke et al. (2000). Onland geology is after Bogdanov and Khain (2000). 1, Active volcanoes (a) and Holocene monogenic vents (b). 2, Trench (a) and pull-apart basin in the Aleutian transform zone (b). 3, Thrust (a) and normal (b) faults. 4, Strike-slip faults. 5–6, Sredinny Massif. 5, Amphibolite-grade felsic paragneisses of the Kolpakovskaya series. 6, Allochthonous metasedimentary and metavolcanic rocks of the Malkinskaya series. 7, The Kvakhona arc. 8, Amphibolites and gabbro (solid circle) of the Ganal Massif. Lower inset shows the global position of Kamchatka. Upper inset shows main Cretaceous-Eocene tectonic units (Bogdanov and Khain 2000): Western Kamchatka (WK) composite unit including the Sredinny Massif, the Kvakhona arc, and the thick pile of Upper Cretaceous marine clastic rocks; Eastern Kamchatka (EK) arc, and Eastern Peninsulas terranes (EPT). Eastern Kamchatka is also known as the Olyutorka-Kamchatka arc (Nokleberg et al. 1998) or the Achaivayam-Valaginskaya arc (Konstantinovskaya 2000), while Eastern Peninsulas terranes are also called Kronotskaya arc (Levashova et al. 2000).

    • This map shows the configuration of the subducting slab. The original figure caption is below in blockquote.

    • Kamchatka subduction zone. A: Major geologic structures at the Kamchatka–Aleutian Arc junction. Thin dashed lines show isodepths to subducting Pacific plate (Gorbatov et al., 1997). Inset illustrates major volcanic zones in Kamchatka: EVB—Eastern Volcanic Belt; CKD—Central
      Kamchatka Depression (rift-like tectonic structure, which accommodates the northern end of EVB); SR—Sredinny Range. Distribution of Quaternary volcanic rocks in EVB and SR is shown in orange and green, respectively. Small dots are active vol canoes. Large circles denote CKD volcanoes: T—Tolbachik; K l — K l y u c h e v s k o y ; Z—Zarechny; Kh—Kharchinsky; Sh—Shiveluch; Shs—Shisheisky Complex; N—Nachikinsky. Location of profiles shown in Figures 2 and 3 is indicated. B: Three dimensional visualization of the Kamchatka subduction zone from the north. Surface relief is shown as semi-transparent layer. Labeled dashed lines and color (blue to red) gradation of subducting plate denote depths to the plate from the earth surface (in km). Bold arrow shows direction of Pacific Plate movement.

    • Here is the more detailed tectonic map from Konstantinovskaia et al. (2001).

    • This is the cross section associated with the above map.

    • Here is the Rhea et al. (2010) poster.

    • Here is a map that shows the seismicity (1960-2014) for this plate boundary. This is the spatial extent for the videos below.

    • Here is a link to the file to save to your computer.
    • Finally, here is an earthquake report for an earthquake also north of today’s M 7.4 earthquake.

    Geologic Fundamentals

    • For more on the graphical representation of moment tensors and focal mechnisms, check this IRIS video out:
    • Here is a fantastic infographic from Frisch et al. (2011). This figure shows some examples of earthquakes in different plate tectonic settings, and what their fault plane solutions are. There is a cross section showing these focal mechanisms for a thrust or reverse earthquake. The upper right corner includes my favorite figure of all time. This shows the first motion (up or down) for each of the four quadrants. This figure also shows how the amplitude of the seismic waves are greatest (generally) in the middle of the quadrant and decrease to zero at the nodal planes (the boundary of each quadrant).

    • Here is another way to look at these beach balls.
    • There are three types of earthquakes, strike-slip, compressional (reverse or thrust, depending upon the dip of the fault), and extensional (normal). Here is are some animations of these three types of earthquake faults. The following three animations are from IRIS.
    • Strike Slip:



    • This is an image from the USGS that shows how, when an oceanic plate moves over a hotspot, the volcanoes formed over the hotspot form a series of volcanoes that increase in age in the direction of plate motion. The presumption is that the hotspot is stable and stays in one location. Torsvik et al. (2017) use various methods to evaluate why this is a false presumption for the Hawaii Hotspot.

    • A cutaway view along the Hawaiian island chain showing the inferred mantle plume that has fed the Hawaiian hot spot on the overriding Pacific Plate. The geologic ages of the oldest volcano on each island (Ma = millions of years ago) are progressively older to the northwest, consistent with the hot spot model for the origin of the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamount Chain. (Modified from image of Joel E. Robinson, USGS, in “This Dynamic Planet” map of Simkin and others, 2006.)

    • Here is a map from Torsvik et al. (2017) that shows the age of volcanic rocks at different locations along the Hawaii-Emperor Seamount Chain.

    • Hawaiian-Emperor Chain. White dots are the locations of radiometrically dated seamounts, atolls and islands, based on compilations of Doubrovine et al. and O’Connor et al. Features encircled with larger white circles are discussed in the text and Fig. 2. Marine gravity anomaly map is from Sandwell and Smith.

    Return to the Earthquake Reports page.

    Category(s): alaska, asia, earthquake, education, Extension, geology, pacific, plate tectonics, strike-slip, subduction, Transform, tsunami

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