Fault Stress Inversion Reveals Seismogenic Asperity of the 2011 Mw 9.0 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

Sci Rep. 2019 Aug 19;9(1):11987. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-47992-x.


We predict, with a model (earthquake stress model) that inverts the displacements documented at 163 GNSS onshore stations of the GEONET, the change of shear and normal stresses on the megathrust near the Japan Trench over the seven years before the 2011 Mw 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. We find three areas on the megathrust with greater accumulations of shear and normal stresses before the earthquake, which match the ruptured areas of the mainshock and two largest aftershocks (Mw 7.8 and 7.4) that occurred within half an hour after the mainshock. We also find that the change of normal stress on the fault before the earthquake is not uniform but increases in the up-dip portion (shallower depth) of the fault from the hypocenter and decreases in the down-dip portion. We infer that the occurrence of the giant earthquake at the shallow portion of the megathrust may be attributed to the increase of the normal stress there, which leads to an increase of fault shear strength and allows more elastic strain energy to accumulate to prepare for the next big earthquake. Based on these results we propose a new concept of the seismogenic asperity as the area of greater accumulations of shear and normal stresses. The method presented here may be useful for predicting the rupture zone of future large earthquakes.