Oceanic Transform Faults

Transform faults are one of the three major plate boundaries and can be divided into two groups: continental and oceanic transform faults. Compared to the continental transform faults, oceanic transform faults (OTFs), especially the short fast-spreading ones in East Pacific Rise, have several advantages on study the earthquake physics and earthquake cycle: simple thermal and kinematic structures, short earthquake cycles, high levels of foreshock activities, and evident quasi-periodic and synchronized earthquakes. To date, earthquakes in OTFs show the most systematic and predictable seismic behaviors in seismology.

Progress in understanding earthquake cycles is often hindered by the fact that cycles of large earthquakes are much longer than the modern observation history. It is difficult to fully understand earthquake cycles from modern observations that capture only a snapshot of the hundreds- to thousands-year cycles of large earthquakes and paleo-seismic data that suffer from large uncertainty regarding earthquake magnitude, timing, rupture extent, etc. OTFs at EPR provide a simpler case to crack the “codes” of earthquake physics on transform faults. The OTFs share the fundamental physics with their continental counterparts, so their understanding will provide insights into the dynamics of continental faults, including the San Andreas Fault in California and the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey—both have generated devastating earthquakes in recent history.

Supported by the National Science Foundation (award 1357433), my group is building numerical modeling of earthquake cycles on OTFs. An introduction movie can be found here.