Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Stress modulation of earthquakes: A study of long and short period stress perturbations and the crustal response

  • Author(s): Johnson, Christopher W.
  • Advisor(s): Burgmann, Roland
  • et al.

Decomposing fault mechanical processes advances our understanding of active fault systems and properties of the lithosphere, thereby increasing the effectiveness of seismic hazard assessment and preventative measures implemented in urban centers. Along plate boundaries earthquakes are inevitable as tectonic forces reshape the Earth’s surface. Earthquakes, faulting, and surface displacements are related systems that require multidisciplinary approaches to characterize deformation in the lithosphere. Modern geodetic instrumentation can resolve displacements to millimeter precision and provide valuable insight into secular deformation in near real-time. The expansion of permanent seismic networks as well as temporary deployments allow unprecedented detection of microseismic events that image fault interfaces and fracture networks in the crust. The research presented in this dissertation is at the intersection of seismology and geodesy to study the Earth’s response to transient deformation and explores research questions focusing on earthquake triggering, induced seismicity, and seasonal loading while utilizing seismic data, geodetic data, and modeling tools. The focus is to quantify stress changes in the crust, explore seismicity rate variations and migration patterns, and model crustal deformation in order to characterize the evolving state of stress on faults and the migration of fluids in the crust. The collection of problems investigated all investigate the question: Why do earthquakes nucleate following a low magnitude stress perturbation? Answers to this question are fundamental to understanding the time dependent failure processes of the lithosphere.

Dynamic triggering is the interaction of faults and triggering of earthquakes represents stress transferring from one system to another, at both local and remote distances [Freed, 2005]. The passage of teleseismic surface waves from the largest earthquakes produce dynamic stress fields and provides a natural laboratory to explore the causal relationship between low-amplitude stress changes and dynamically triggered events. Interestingly, observations of dynamically triggered M≥5.5 earthquakes are absent in the seismic records [Johnson et al., 2015; Parsons and Velasco, 2011], which invokes questions regarding whether or not large magnitude events can be dynamically triggered. Emerging results in the literature indicate undocumented M≥5.5 events at near to intermediate distances are dynamically triggered during the passage of surface waves but are undetected by automated networks [Fan and Shearer, 2016]. This raises new questions about the amplitude and duration of dynamic stressing for large magnitude events. I used 35-years of global seismicity and find that large event rate increases only occur following a delay from the transient load, suggesting aseismic processes are associated with large magnitude triggered events. To extend this finding I investigated three cases of large magnitude delayed dynamic triggering following the M8.6 2012 Indian Ocean earthquake [Pollitz et al., 2012] by producing microseismicity catalogs and modeling the transient stresses. The results indicate immediate triggering of microseismic events that hours later culminate into a large magnitude event and support the notion that large magnitude events are triggerable by transient loading, but seismic and aseismic processes (e.g. induced creep or fluid mobilization) are contributing to the nucleation process. Open questions remain concerning the source of a nucleation delay period following a stress perturbation that require both geodetic and seismic observations to constrain the source of delayed dynamic triggering and possibly provide insight into a precursory nucleation phase

Induced seismicity has gained much attention in the past 5 years as earthquake rates in regions of low tectonic strain accumulation accelerate to unprecedented levels [Ellsworth, 2013]. The source of the seismicity is attributed to shallow fluid injection associated with energy production. As hydrocarbon extraction continues to increase in the U.S. the deformation and induced seismicity from wastewater injection is providing new avenues to explore crustal properties. The large magnitude events associated with regions of high rate injection support the notion that the crust is critically stressed. Seismic data in these areas provides the opportunity to delineate fault structures in the crust using precise earthquake locations. To augment the studies of transient loading cycles I investigated induced seismicity at The Geysers geothermal field in northern California. Using high-resolution hypocenter data I implement an epidemic type aftershock sequence (ETAS) model to develop seismicity rate time series in the active geothermal field and characterize the migration of fluids from high volume water injection. Subtle stress changes induced by thermo- and poroelastic strains trigger seismicity for ~5 months after peak injection at depths ~3 km below the main injection interval. This suggests vertical migration paths are maintained in the geothermal field that allows fluid propagation on annual time scales. Fully describing the migration pattern of fluids in the crust and the associated stresses are applicable to tectonic related faulting and triggered seismic activity.

Seasonal hydrological loading is a source of annual periodic transient deformation that is ideal for investigating the modulation of seismicity. The initial step in exploring the modulation of seismicity is to validate that a significant annual period does exist in California earthquake records. The periodicity results [Dutilleul et al., 2015] motivate continued investigation of seismically active regions that experience significant seasonal mass loading, i.e. high precipitation and snowfall rates, to quantify the magnitude of seasonal stress changes and possible correlation with seismicity modulation. The implication of this research addresses questions concerning the strength and state of stress on faults. High-resolution water storage time series throughout California are developed using continuous GPS records. The results allow an estimation of the stress changes induced by hydrological loading, which is combined with a detailed focal mechanism analysis to characterize the modulation of seismicity. The hydrologic loading is augmented with the contribution of additional deformation sources (e.g. tidal, atmosphere, and temperature) and find that annual stress changes of ~5 kPa are modulating seismicity, most notably on dip-slip structures. These observations suggest that mechanical differences exist between the vertically dipping strike-slip faults and the shallowly dipping oblique structures in California. When comparing all the annual loading cycles it is evident that future studies incorporate all the sources of solid Earth deformation to fully describe the stresses realized on fault systems that respond to seasonal loads.

Main Content
Current View