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The Cause of the Magnitude 7.7 Earthquake in the Northern Mariana Islands

2018-06-15  |   Editor : houguangbing  
Category : Events

On July 29, 2016, the M 7.7 earthquake in the Northern Mariana Islands region occurred as the result of oblique reverse faulting at an intermediate depth, approximately 210 km beneath the Pacific Ocean and 200 km west of the Mariana Trench, which marks where the Pacific plate begins its subduction beneath the overriding Philippine Sea plate. Focal mechanism solutions indicate oblique rupture occurred on either a south-southwest or northwest striking reverse fault. Slipping on a fault of either orientation is consistent with the intraplate compressional tectonics implied by the faulting mechanism and earthquake depth. At the location of the earthquake, the Pacific plate moves to the west relative to the Philippine Sea plate at the velocity of about 40 mm/yr, and at about 60 mm/yr relative to the Mariana microplate. The earthquake likely represents the release of stress resulting from the distortion of the Pacific plate at depth.

Earthquakes like this event, with focal depths from 70 to 300 km, are commonly termed "intermediate-depth" earthquakes. Intermediate-depth earthquakes represent deformation within subducted slabs rather than at the shallow plate interface between subducting and overriding tectonic plates. They typically cause less damage on the ground surface above their foci than the case with similar magnitude shallow-focus earthquakes, but large intermediate-depth earthquakes may be felt at great distance from their epicenters. "Deep-focus" earthquakes, those with focal depths greater than 300 km, also occur in the subducted Pacific plate beneath the Mariana island arc. Earthquakes have been reliably located to depths of about 630 km beneath the Mariana arc.

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