From tomographic images to fault heterogeneities

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C. Chiarabba
A. Amato


Local Earthquake Tomography (LET) is a useful tool for imaging lateral heterogeneities in the upper crust. The pattern of P- and S-wave velocity anomalies, in relation to the seismicity distribution along active fault zones. can shed light on the existence of discrete seismogenic patches. Recent tomographic studies in well monitored seismic areas have shown that the regions with large seismic moment release generally correspond to high velocity zones (HVZ's). In this paper, we discuss the relationship between the seismogenic behavior of faults and the velocity structure of fault zones as inferred from seismic tomography. First, we review some recent tomographic studies in active strike-slip faults. We show examples from different segments of the San Andreas fault system (Parkfield, Loma Prieta), where detailed studies have been carried out in recent years. We also show two applications of LET to thrust faults (Coalinga, Friuli). Then, we focus on the Irpinia normal fault zone (South-Central Italy), where a Ms = 6.9 earthquake occurred in 1980 and many thousands of attershock travel time data are available. We find that earthquake hypocenters concentrate in HVZ's, whereas low velocity zones (LVZ s) appear to be relatively aseismic. The main HVZ's along which the mainshock rupture bas propagated may correspond to velocity weakening fault regions, whereas the LVZ's are probably related to weak materials undergoing stable slip (velocity strengthening). A correlation exists between this HVZ and the area with larger coseismic slip along the fault, according to both surface evidence (a fault scarp as high as 1 m) and strong ground motion waveform modeling. Smaller wave-length, low-velocity anomalies detected along the fault may be the expression of velocity strengthening sections, where aseismic slip occurs. According to our results, the rupture at the nucleation depth (~ 10-12 km) is continuous for the whole fault lenoth (~ 30 km), whereas at shallow depth, different fault segments are activated due to lateral heterogeneities in the sedimentary cover. This finding confirms that the rupture process is controlled by lithologic and structural discontinuities in the upper crust, and emphasizes the contribution that LET can make to the study of fault mechanics.

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Chiarabba C, Amato A. From tomographic images to fault heterogeneities. Ann. Geophys. [Internet]. 1994Nov.25 [cited 2023Dec.11];37(6). Available from:

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