Signature of supershear transition seen in damage and aftershock pattern
IPGP - Îlot Cuvier
Séminaires Tectonique et Mécanique de la Lithosphère
Laboratoire de Géologie (ENS)
Supershear earthquakes are rare but powerful ruptures with devastating consequences. How quickly an earthquake rupture attains this speed, or for that matter decelerates from it, strongly affects high-frequency ground motion and the spatial extent of coseismic off-fault damage. Traditionally, studies of supershear earthquakes have focused on determining which fault segments sustained fully-grown supershear ruptures. Knowing that the rupture first propagated at subshear rupture speeds, these studies usually guessed an approximate location for the transition from subshear to supershear regimes. The rarity of confirmed supershear ruptures, combined with the fact that conditions for supershear transition are still debated, complicates the investigation of supershear transition in real earthquakes. Here, we find a unique signature of the location of a supershear transition: we show that, when a rupture accelerates towards supershear speed, the stress concentration abruptly shrinks, limiting the off-fault damage and aftershock productivity. First, we use theoretical fracture mechanics to demonstrate that, before transitioning to supershear, the stress concentration around the rupture tip shrinks, confining the region where damage & aftershocks are expected. Then, employing two different dynamic rue ture modeling approaches, we confirm such reduction in stress concentration, further validating the expected signature in the transition region. We contrast these numerical and theoretical results with high-resolution aftershock catalogs for three natural supershear earthquakes, where we identify a small region with lower af tershock density near the supershear transition. Finally, using satellite optical image correlation techniques, we show that, for a fourth event, the transition zone is characterized by a diminution in the width of the damage zone. Our results demonstrate that the transition from subshear to supershear rupture can be clearly identified by a localized absence of aftershocks, and a decrease in off-fault damage, due to a transient reduction of the stress intensity at the rupture tip.