Journal article Open Access

Slab pull and seismotectonics of subducting litho-sphere

Spence, William

This synthesis links many seismic and tectonic processes at subduction zones, including great subduction earthquakes, to the sinking of subducted plate. Earthquake data and tectonic modeling for subduction zones indicate that the slab pull force is much larger than the ridge push force. Interactions between the forces that drive and resist plate motions cause spatially and temporally localized stresses that lead to characteristic earthquake activity, providing details on how subduction occurs. Compression is localized across a locked interface thrust zone, because both the ridge push and the slab pull forces are resisted there. The slab pull force increases with increasing plate age; thus because the slab pull force tends to bend subducted plate downward and decrease the force acting normal to the interface thrust zone, the characteristic maximum earthquake at a given interface thrust zone is inversely related to the age of the subducted plate. The 1960 Chile earthquake (Mw 9.5), the largest earthquake to occur in historic times, began its rupture at an interface bounding oceanic plate
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