Subduction plate interface shear stress associated with rapid subduction at deep slow earthquake depths: example from the Sanbagawa belt, southwestern Japan

Koyama, Yukinojo; Wallis, Simon R.; Nagaya, Takayoshi

Maximum shear stress along an active deformation zone marking the subduction plate interface is important for understanding earthquake phenomena and is an important input parameter in subduction zone thermomechanical modeling. However, such maximum shear stress is difficult to measure directly at depths more than a few kilometers and is generally estimated by simulation using a range of input parameters with large associated uncertainties. In addition, estimated values generally represent maximum shear stress conditions over short observation timescales, which may not be directly applicable to long-timescale subduction zone modeling. Rocks originally located deep in subduction zones can record information about deformation processes, including maximum shear stress conditions, occurring in regions that cannot be directly accessed. The estimated maximum shear stress is likely to be representative of maximum shear stress experienced over geological timescales and be suitable to use in subduction zone modeling over timescales of millions to tens of millions of years. In this study, we estimated maximum shear stress along a subduction plate interface by using samples from the Sanbagawa metamorphic belt of southwestern (SW) Japan, in which slivers of mantle-wedge-derived serpentinite are widely distributed and in direct contact with metasedimentary rocks derived from the subducted oceanic plate. These areas can be related to the zone of active deformation along the subduction plate interface.

To obtain estimates of maximum shear stress at the subduction interface, we focused on the microstructure of quartz-rich metamorphic rocks – quartz is the main component of the rocks we collected and its deformation stress is assumed to be roughly representative of the stress experienced by the surrounding rock and plate interface deformation zone. Maximum shear stress was calculated by applying deformation temperatures estimated by the crystallographic orientation of quartz (the quartz inline-formulac-axis fabric opening-angle thermometer) and the apparent grain size of dynamically recrystallized quartz in a thin section to an appropriate piezometer. Combined with information on sample deformation depth, estimated from the inline-formulaPinline-formulaT (pressure–temperature) path and deformation temperatures, it is suggested that there was nearly constant maximum shear stress of 15–41 MPa in the depth range of about 15–30 km, assuming plane stress conditions even when uncertainties related to the measurement direction of thin section and piezometer differences are included.

The Sanbagawa belt formed in a warm subduction zone. Deep slow earthquakes are commonly observed in modern-day warm subduction zones such as SW Japan, which has a similar thermal structure to the Sanbagawa belt. In addition, deep slow earthquakes are commonly observed to be concentrated in a domain under the shallow part of the mantle wedge. Samples showed the depth conditions near the mantle wedge, suggesting that these samples were formed in a region with features similar to the deep slow earthquake domain. Estimated maximum shear stress may not only be useful for long-timescale subduction zone modeling but also represent the initial conditions from which slow earthquakes in the same domain nucleated.

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Koyama, Yukinojo / Wallis, Simon R. / Nagaya, Takayoshi: Subduction plate interface shear stress associated with rapid subduction at deep slow earthquake depths: example from the Sanbagawa belt, southwestern Japan. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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