In 2007 a M7.7 earthquake occurred near the town of Tocopilla within the northern Chile seismic gap. Main shock slip, derived from coseismic surface deformation, was confined to the depth range between 30 and 55 km. We relocated similar to 1100 events during six months before and one week after the main shock. Aftershock seismicity is first congruent to the main shock slip and then it spreads offshore west and northwest of Mejillones Peninsula (MP). Waveform modeling for 38 aftershocks reveals source mechanisms that are in the majority similar to the main shock. However, a few events appear to occur in the upper plate, some with extensional mechanisms. Juxtaposing the Tocopilla aftershocks with those following the neighboring 1995 Antofagasta earthquake produces a striking symmetry across an EW axis in the center of MP. Events seem to skirt around MP, probably due to a shallower Moho there. We suggest that the seismogenic coupling zone in northern Chile changes its frictional behavior in the downdip direction from unstable to mostly conditionally stable. For both earthquake sequences, aftershocks agglomerate in the conditionally stable region, whereas maximum inter-seismic slip deficit and co-seismic slip occurs in the unstable region. The boundary between the unstable and conditionally stable zones parallels the coastline. We identify a similar segmentation for other earthquakes in Chile and Peru, where the offshore segments break in great M > 8 earthquakes, and the onshore segments in smaller M < 8 earthquakes. Using critical taper analysis, we demonstrate a causal relationship between varying slip behavior on the interface and forearc wedge anatomy that can be attributed to spatial variations in the rate-dependency of friction.
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