Earthquake Report: Chile

I am catching up on earthquake reports today as I was in the field the past couple of weeks…

Well, these reports are getting too long. So, I have placed the explanatory material on 2 web pages, so one does not need to read through that stuff if they have been here before. I will link those pages in all reports. You’re welcome. ;-)

This will also save me some time and make writing these reports simpler.

On 1 August 2019 there was an earthquake along the convergent plate boundary along the west coast of Chile (a subduction zone forming the Peru-Chile trench). This subduction zone megathrust fault produced the largest magnitude earthquake recorded on seismometers in 1960, the Valparaiso, Chile magnitude M9.5 earthquake that caused a trans-pacific tsunami causing damage and deaths all along the western hemispheric coastline.

This M 6.8 earthquake happened at the overlap of the southern end of the 1985 M8.0 and northern end of the 2010 M8.8 earthquakes. Does this portend that there will be another, larger, earthquake in this area soon? Only time will tell.

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 1919-2019 with magnitudes M ≥ 3.0 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.
  • A review of the basic base map variations and data that I use for the interpretive posters can be found on the Earthquake Reports page.
  • Some basic fundamentals of earthquake geology and plate tectonics can be found on the Earthquake Plate Tectonic Fundamentals page.

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

  • In the upper left corner is a map showing historic earthquakes along the Chile margin (Rhea et al., 2010). We may visualize the earthquake depths by checking out the color of the dots. To the below is a cross section, cutting into the Earth. Earthquakes that are along the profile D-D’ (in blue on the map) are included in this cross section. I also placed a blue line on the main map in the general location of this cross section. I placed a blue star in the general location of the M=6.8 earthquake (same for the other inset figures).
  • To the right is a map that shows a comparison between the USGS modeled intensity (using the MMI scale) with the USGS “Did You Feel It?” reports (results from real people). The model and the reported results are quite similar. See the MMI poster below for a more comprehensive comparison. In addition, I include depth contours of the subducting megathrust slab (Hayes et al., 2016; read more here).
  • In the center left bottom, I include a schematic cross section of the subduction zone. This shows where earthquakes may occur, generally. There are subduction zone megathrust earthquakes (the largest of magnitude), crustal earthquakes, slab earthquakes, and outer rise earthquakes.
  • In the lower right corner is a map that shows the relative seismic hazard for this plate boundary (Rhea et al., 2010). I plot both 2019 earthquakes.< The numbers (“80”) indicate the rate at which the Nazca Plate is subducting beneath South America. 80 mm/yr = 3 in/yr.
  • In the upper right corner is a composite figure from several figures from Metois et al., 2016. On the left is a panel that shows the latitudinal range of earthquake ruptures (I fixed it in places as the original figure did not extend the 2010 rupture sufficiently to the north). The panel on the right shows how much the subduction zone fault is “locked” (or, seismically coupled). Darker colors represent parts of the fault that are storing more energy over time and are possibly places where the fault will slip (compared to parts of the fault that are white or yellow, which may be places where the fault is currently slipping and would not generate earthquakes in the future). This is simply a model and there is not way to really know where an earthquake will happen until there is an earthquake.
  • Here is the map with a century’s seismicity plotted, for earthquakes associated with the larger earthquakes from this region (colored relative to time scale, 1960, 1985, 2010, 2015, 2019).

USGS Shaking Intensity

  • Here is a figure that shows a more detailed comparison between the modeled intensity and the reported intensity. Borth data use the same color scale, the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (MMI). More about this can be found here. The colors and contours on the map are results from the USGS modeled intensity. The DYFI data are plotted as colored dots (color = MMI, diameter = number of reports).
  • In the lower right corner is a plot showing MMI intensity (vertical axis) relative to distance from the earthquake (horizontal axis). The models are represented by the green and orange lines. The DYFI data are plotted as light blue dots. The mean and median (different types of “average”) are plotted as orand and purple dots. Note how well the reports fit the green line (the model that represents how MMI works based on quakes in California). I plot Santiago relative to distance from the earthquake with a blue arrow (compare with the poster).

USGS Historic Seismicity

  • Here is a poster that shows the significant earthquakes along this plate boundary. Note how there are earthquakes in the Nazca plate associated with the 2010 and 2015 megathrust subduction zone earthquakes. These are triggered earthquakes along the outer rise, not additional subduction zone earthquakes.
  • In the lower right corner is a figure from Beck (1998) that shows the spatial extent of the known earthquakes. I added the extent of the 2015 and 2010 earthquakes as green arrows.
  • In the upper right corner is an excellent figure from Horton (2018) that shows the plate tectonic setting for this area.

Some Relevant Discussion and Figures

  • Here is the overview figure from Horton, 2018.

  • Maps of (A) tectonic framework, (B) topography, and (C) sedimentary basin configuration of South America. (A) Map of plate boundaries, Andean magmatic arc (including the northern, central, and southern volcanic zones), regions of flat slab subduction, modern stress orientations from earthquake focal mechanisms, eastern front of Andean fold-thrust belt, and key segments of the retroarc foreland basin system. Plate velocities are shown relative to stable South American plate (DeMets et al., 2010). (B) DEM topographic map showing the Andes mountains and adjacent foreland region, including the Amazon, Parana, Orinoco, and Magdalena (Mag) river systems. (C) Map of Andean retroarc basins, showing isopach thicknesses (in km) of Cretaceous-Cenozoic basin fill, forebulge axis (from Chase et al., 2009), and locations of 13 sites (8 foreland basins, 5 hinterland basins) considered in this synthesis

  • Here is the seismic hazard map is from Rhea et al. (2010).

  • Here is the seismicity map and space time diagram from Métois et al. (2016). The subduction zone fault in the region of Coquimbo, Chile changes geometry, probably because of the Juan Fernandez Ridge (this structure controls the shape of the subduction zone). This figure shows a map and cross section for two parts of the subduction zone (Marot et al., 2014). Note how the subduction zone flattens out with depth here. The M=6.7 quake was shallower than this, but the shape of the downgoing slab does affect the amount of slab pull (tension in the down-dip direction) is exerted along the plate.

  • Left estimated extent of large historical or instrumental ruptures along the Chilean margin adapted from ME´ TOIS et al. (2012). Gray stars mark major intra-slab events. The recent Mw[8 earthquakes are indicated in red. Gray shaded areas correspond to LCZs defined in Fig. 3. Right seismicity recorded by the Centro Sismologico Nacional (CSN) during
    interseismic period, color-coded depending on the event’s depth. Three zones have been defined to avoid including aftershocks and preshocks associated with major events: (1) in North Chile, we plot the seismicity from 2008 to january 2014, i.e., between the Tocopilla and Iquique earthquakes; (2) in Central Chile, we plot the seismicity on the entire 2000–2014 period; (3) in South-Central Chile, we selected events that occurred between 2000 and 2010, i.e., before the Maule earthquake.

  • This figure is the 3 panel figure in the interpretive poster showing how seismicity is distributed along the margin, how historic earthquake slip was distributed, and how the fault may be locked (or slipping) along the megathrust fault.

  • a Histogram depicts the rate of Mw>3 earthquakes registered by the CSN catalog during the interseismic period defined for each zone (see Fig. 2) on the subduction interface, on 0.2° of latitude sliding windows. Stars are swarm-like sequences detected by HOLTKAMP et al. (2011) depending on their occurrence date. Swarms located in the Iquique LCZ and Camarones segment are from RUIZ et al. (2014). Empty squares are significant intraplate earthquakes. b Red curve variations of the average coupling coefficient on the first 60 km of depth calculated on 0.2° of latitude sliding windows for our best model including an Andean sliver motion. Dashed pink curves are alternative models with different smoothing options that fit the data with nRMS better than 2 (see supplementary figure 6): the pink shaded envelope around our best model stands for the variability of the coupling along strike. Green curves coseismic distribution for Maule (VIGNY et al. 2011), Iquique (LAY et al. 2014) and Illapel earthquakes (RUIZ et al. 2016). Gray shaded areas stand for the identified low coupling zones (LCZs). LCZs and high coupling segments are named on the left. The apparent decrease in the average coupling North of 30°S is considered as an artifact of the Andean sliver motion (see Sect. 5.2). c Best coupling distribution obtained inverting for Andean sliver motion and coupling amount simultaneously. The rupture zones for the three major earthquakes are indicated as green ellipses. White shaded areas are zones where we lack resolution.

  • This is a figure that shows details about the coupling compared to some slip models for the 2010, 2014, and 2015 earthquakes.

  • Left coupling maps (color coded) versus coseismic slip distributions (gray shaded contours in cm) for the last three major Chilean earthquakes (epicenters are marked by white stars). From top to bottom Iquique area, white squares are pre-seismic swarm event in the month before the main shock, green star is the 2005, Tarapaca´ intraslab earthquake epicenter, blue star is the Mw 6.7 Iquique aftershock; Illapel area, green squares show the seismicity associated with the 1997 swarm following the Punitaqui intraslab earthquake (green star); Maule area, green star is the epicenter of the 1939 Chillan intraslab earthquake. Right interseismic background seismicity in the shallow part of the subduction zone (shallower than 60 km depth) for each region (red dots) together with 80 and 90 % coupling contours. White dots are events identified as mainshock after a declustering procedure following GARDNER and KNOPOFF (1974). Yellow areas extent of swarm sequences identified by HOLTKAMP et al. (2011) for South and Central Chile, and RUIZ et al. (2014) for North Chile.

  • This is the fault locking figure from Saillard et al. (2017), showing the percent coupling (how much of the plate convergence contributes to deformation of the plate boundary, which may tell us places on the fault that might slip during an earthquake. We are still learning about why this is important and what it means.

  • Comparison between the uplift rates, interseismic coupling, major bathymetric features, and peninsulas along the Andean margin (10°S–40°S). (a) Uplift rates of marine terraces reported in the literature (we present the average rate since terrace abandonment; Table S1 in the supporting information [Jara-Muñoz et al., 2015]). Each color corresponds to a marine terrace assigned to a marine isotopic stage (MIS). Gray dots are the uplift rates of the central Andean rasa estimated from a numerical model of landscape evolution [Melnick, 2016]. (b) Major bathymetric features and peninsulas and pattern of interseismic coupling of the Andean margin from GPS data inversion (this study). Gray shaded areas correspond to the areas where the spatial resolution of inversion is low due to the poor density of GPS observations (see text and supporting information for more details). The Peru-Chile trench (thick black line), the coastline (thin black line), and the convergence direction (black arrows) are indicated. We superimposed the curve obtained by shifting the trench geometry eastward by 110 km (trench-coast distance of 110 km; blue line) with the curve reflecting the 40 km isodepth of the subducting slab (red line; Slab1.0 from Hayes and Wald [2009]), a depth which corresponds approximately with the downdip end of the locked portion of the Andean seismogenic zone (±10 km) [Ruff and Tichelaar, 1996; Khazaradze and Klotz, 2003; Chlieh et al., 2011; Ruegg et al., 2009; Moreno et al., 2011; Métois et al., 2012]. The two curves are spatially similar in the erosive part of the Chile margin (north of 34°S), whereas they diverge along the shallower slab geometry in the accretionary part of the Chile margin (south of 34°S), where the downdip end of the locked zone may be shallower (Figure 4b). Red arrows indicate the low interseismic coupling associated with peninsulas and marine terraces and evidence of aseismic afterslip (after Perfettini et al. [2010] below the Pisco-Nazca Peninsula; Pritchard and Simons [2006], Victor et al. [2011], Shirzaei et al. [2012], Bejar-Pizarro et al. [2013], and Métois et al. [2013] for the Mejillones Peninsula; Métois et al. [2012, 2014] below the Tongoy Peninsula; and Métois et al. [2012] and Lin et al. [2013] for the Arauco Peninsula). FZ: Fracture zone. Horizontal blue bands are the areas where coastline is less than 110 km (light blue) or 90 km (dark blue) from the trench (see Figure 1).

  • The following figures from Leyton et al. (2009) are great analogies, showing examples of interplate earthquakes (e.g. subduction zone megathrust events) and intraplate earthquakes (e.g. slab quakes, or events within the downgoing plate). The first figures are maps showing these earthquakes, then there are some seismicity cross sections.

  • Maps showing the location of the study and the events used ((a)–(c)). In red we present interplate earthquakes, while in blue, the intermediate depth, intraplate ones. We used beach balls to plot those events with known focal and circles for those without. White triangles mark the position of the Chilean Seismological Network used to locate the events; those with names represent stations used in the waveform analysis (either accelerometers or broadbands with known instrumental response). Labels over beach balls correspond to CMT codes.

  • Here are 2 cross sections showing the earthquakes plotted in the maps above (Leyton et al., 2009).

  • Cross-section at (a) 33.5◦S and (b) 36.5◦S showing the events used in this study. In red we present interplate earthquakes, while in blue, the intermediate depth, intraplate ones.We used beach balls (vertical projection) to plot those events with knownfocal and circles for those without. In light gray is shown the background seismicity recorded from 2000 to 2006 by the Chilean Seismological Service

  • Here is the cross section figure I prepared for the interpretive poster above.

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    Basic & General References

  • Frisch, W., Meschede, M., Blakey, R., 2011. Plate Tectonics, Springer-Verlag, London, 213 pp.
  • Hayes, G., 2018, Slab2 – A Comprehensive Subduction Zone Geometry Model: U.S. Geological Survey data release,
  • Holt, W. E., C. Kreemer, A. J. Haines, L. Estey, C. Meertens, G. Blewitt, and D. Lavallee (2005), Project helps constrain continental dynamics and seismic hazards, Eos Trans. AGU, 86(41), 383–387, , /li>
  • Kreemer, C., J. Haines, W. Holt, G. Blewitt, and D. Lavallee (2000), On the determination of a global strain rate model, Geophys. J. Int., 52(10), 765–770.
  • Kreemer, C., W. E. Holt, and A. J. Haines (2003), An integrated global model of present-day plate motions and plate boundary deformation, Geophys. J. Int., 154(1), 8–34, ,
  • Kreemer, C., G. Blewitt, E.C. Klein, 2014. A geodetic plate motion and Global Strain Rate Model in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, v. 15, p. 3849-3889,
  • Meyer, B., Saltus, R., Chulliat, a., 2017. EMAG2: Earth Magnetic Anomaly Grid (2-arc-minute resolution) Version 3. National Centers for Environmental Information, NOAA. Model.
  • Müller, R.D., Sdrolias, M., Gaina, C. and Roest, W.R., 2008, Age spreading rates and spreading asymmetry of the world’s ocean crust in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 9, Q04006,
  • Specific References

  • Beck, S., Barrientos, S., Kausel, E., and Reyes, M., 1998. Source Characteristics of Historic Earthquakes along the Central Chile Subduction Zone in Journal of South American Earth Sciences, v. 11, no. 2, p. 115-129,
  • Gardi, A., A. Lemoine, R. Madariaga, and J. Campos (2006), Modeling of stress transfer in the Coquimbo region of central Chile, J. Geophys. Res., 111, B04307,
  • Horton, B.K., 2018. Sedimentary record of Andean mountain building< in Earth-Science Reviews, v. 178, p. 279-309,
  • Leyton, F., Ruiz, J., Campos, J., and Kausel, E., 2009. Intraplate and interplate earthquakes in Chilean subduction zone:
    A theoretical and observational comparison in Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, v. 175, p. 37-46,
  • Marot, M., Monfret, T., Gerbault, M.,. Nolet, G., Ranalli, G., and Pardo, M., 2014. Flat versus normal subduction zones: a comparison based on 3-D regional traveltime tomography and petrological modelling of central Chile and western Argentina (29◦–35◦S) in GJI, v. 199, p. 1633-164,
  • Métois, M., Vigny, C., and Socquet, A., 2016. Interseismic Coupling, Megathrust Earthquakes and Seismic Swarms Along the Chilean Subduction Zone (38°–18°S) in Pure Applied Geophysics,
  • Rhea, S., Hayes, G., Villaseñor, A., Furlong, K.P., Tarr, A.C., and Benz, H.M., 2010. Seismicity of the earth 1900–2007, Nazca Plate and South America: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010–1083-E, 1 sheet, scale 1:12,000,000.
  • Ruiz, S. and Madariaga, R., 2018. Historical and recent large megathrust earthquakes in Chile in Tectonophysics, v. 733, p. 37-56,
  • Saillard, M., L. Audin, B. Rousset, J.-P. Avouac, M. Chlieh, S. R. Hall, L. Husson, and D. L. Farber, 2017. From the seismic cycle to long-term deformation: linking seismic coupling and Quaternary coastal geomorphology along the Andean megathrust in Tectonics, 36, https://doi:10.1002/2016TC004156.

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