Taxonomy term

subduction zone

Alaskan subduction zone mirrors Tohoku zone that unleashed tsunami

In 2011, a large swath of coastal Japan was devastated and more than 15,000 people were killed when the magnitude-9.1 Tohoku earthquake unleashed massive tsunami waves that inundated land with run-up heights of 30 meters in places. In a new study, researchers have discovered that the seafloor off the Alaska Peninsula exhibits structures and fault patterns similar to the region where the Tohoku quake originated — a finding that may indicate a higher tsunami risk for coastal Alaska than previously thought.

20 Nov 2017

Dehydrated sediment layer made Sumatra quake stronger

Subduction zones are notorious for unleashing great earthquakes and tsunamis, such as the 2004 magnitude-9.1 Sumatra quake that caused shaking and inundations that killed more than 250,000 people and left millions more homeless. However, despite the dangerous reputations of subduction zones, their hazards are still often underestimated. New research reveals how sediments in the Sumatra Trench may have contributed to producing an even bigger earthquake and tsunami than hazard forecasts had estimated.

07 Sep 2017

Downgoing plate topography stopped 2005 Sumatra rupture

In late March 2005, a magnitude-8.7 earthquake struck off the northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, rupturing a portion of the Sunda Megathrust Fault and further terrorizing a region still reeling from the devastating 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami just three months prior. The March quake, however, could have been far larger than it was, according to new research. Scientists have identified a topographic barrier on the oceanic Indo-Australian Plate — which descends under the Sunda Plate in the Sumatra Subduction Zone — that may have stopped the 2005 rupture from propagating farther.

04 Apr 2016

Going with the flow: Mapping the mantle under the Cascadia Subduction Zone

The Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), off the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States and Canada, is one of the world’s most mysterious — and potentially dangerous — earthquake zones. Eerily quiet since a massive magnitude-9 event in 1700, scientists have long warned that the 1,000-kilometer-long fault zone could produce another devastating earthquake and tsunami. Now, a new effort to map the fault zone’s tectonic environment, including the underlying mantle, is shedding light on some of the dynamic forces that may influence earthquakes in the region.

25 Mar 2016

Hidden double earthquake spells trouble for tsunami-warning systems

On Jan. 2, 2011, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake was recorded striking central Chile along the tectonic boundary between the Nazca and South American plates. Shaking from the quake was felt hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter, but no deaths or major damage were reported.
06 Mar 2016

Subducting seamounts blocked a big quake in Chile

Chile, which lies above a massive subduction zone fault, is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, experiencing nine temblors of magnitude 7 or greater since 2010. In April 2014, a magnitude-8.1 earthquake struck 95 kilometers northwest of the city of Iquique, but despite its large size, the event failed to release all the stress thought to have built up along that portion of the fault. A new study reveals that a ridge of ancient underwater volcanoes may have blocked the 2014 earthquake rupture from propagating farther, thus limiting the size of the quake.


20 Jan 2016

Stalled slabs sometimes stopped by mineral strengthening

Subduction of tectonic plates into the mantle functions as an eons-long recycling system for Earth’s crust and lithosphere. But in some subduction zones, the downgoing slabs seem to get stuck at depths of about 1,000 kilometers, held up by some unseen barrier on their journey deeper into the lower mantle. Now, scientists propose that this barrier might be related to high-pressure-induced strengthening of minerals in the rocks surrounding subducting slabs at these depths.
09 Aug 2015

Small tremor could have triggered big Chilean quake

On April 1, 2014, a magnitude-8.2 earthquake shook the empty stretch of coast where Chile arcs into Peru, a region called the Iquique Gap. The gap is the only part of the 7,000 kilometer-long boundary between the Nazca and South American plates that hadn’t ruptured in the past century, despite a collision rate of almost 65 millimeters per year.

11 Apr 2015

Thank subduction for Earth's nitrogen-rich air

Plate tectonics underlies many of Earth’s distinctive features, from its ever-shifting continents to its colliding mountain ranges and continuously forming crust at mid-ocean ridges. According to a new study, the process might also explain another of our planet’s peculiarities: its nitrogen-rich atmosphere.

08 Mar 2015

Skinned oceanic plates may be origin of ophiolites

Long recognized as slivers of oceanic crust incongruously emplaced on land, ophiolites are distinctive sequences of basalt, gabbro and peridotite found globally near former and current convergent zones, where oceanic tectonic plates subduct under continents. But scientists don’t have a clear idea why or how ophiolites split from downgoing plates and find their way onto land. Now, a new study suggests part of the answer may relate to weak layers of mantle that allow oceanic crust to be peeled, or “skinned,” from subducting slabs as they descend.

10 Jan 2015