Seismic behaviour of mountain belts controlled by plate convergence rate

L. Dal Zilio, Y. van Dinther, T.V. Gerya, C.C. Pranger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The relative contribution of tectonic and kinematic processes to seismic behaviour of mountain belts is still controversial. To understand the partitioning between these processes we developed a model that simulates both tectonic and seismic processes in a continental collision setting. These 2D seismo-thermo-mechanical (STM) models obtain a Gutenberg–Richter frequency–magnitude distribution due to spontaneous events occurring throughout the orogen. Our simulations suggest that both the corresponding slope (b value) and maximum earthquake magnitude () correlate linearly with plate convergence rate. By analyzing 1D rheological profiles and isotherm depths we demonstrate that plate convergence rate controls the brittle strength through a rheological feedback with temperature and strain rate. Faster convergence leads to cooler temperatures and also results in more larger seismogenic domains, thereby increasing both and the relative number of large earthquakes (decreasing b value). This mechanism also predicts a more seismogenic lower crust, which is confirmed by a transition from uni- to bi-modal hypocentre depth distributions in our models. This transition and a linear relation between convergence rate and b value and is supported by our comparison of earthquakes recorded across the Alps, Apennines, Zagros and Himalaya. These results imply that deformation in the Alps occurs in a more ductile manner compared to the Himalayas, thereby reducing its seismic hazard. Furthermore, a second set of experiments with higher temperature and different orogenic architecture shows the same linear relation with convergence rate, suggesting that large-scale tectonic structure plays a subordinate role. We thus propose that plate convergence rate, which also controls the average differential stress of the orogen and its linear relation to the b value, is the first-order parameter controlling seismic hazard of mountain belts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-92
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume482
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • seismicity
  • mountain belts
  • convergence rate
  • Gutenberg-Richter Law
  • numerical modelling

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