Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract The theory of plate tectonics provides a basic framework for evaluating the potential for future great earthquakes to occur along major plate boundaries. Along most of the transform and convergent plate boundaries considered in this paper, the majority of seismic slip occurs during large earthquakes, i.e., those of magnitude 7 or greater. The concepts that rupture zones, as delineated by aftershocks, tend to abut rather than overlap, and large events occur in regions with histories of both long- and short-term seismic quiescence are used in this paper to delineate major seismic gaps. In detail, however, the distribution of large shallow earthquakes along convergent plate margins is not always consistent with a simple model derived from plate tectonics. Certain plate boundaries, for example, appear in the long term to be nearly aseismic with respect to large earthquakes. The identification of specific tectonic regimes, as defined by dip of the inclined seismic zone, the presence or absence of aseismic ridges and seamounts on the downgoing lithospheric plate, the age contrast between the overthrust and underthrust plates, and the presence or absence of back-arc spreading, have led to a refinement in the application of plate tectonic theory to the evaluation of seismic potential. The term seismic gap is taken to refer to any region along an active plate boundary that has not experienced a large thrust or strike-slip earthquake for more than 30 years. A region of high seismic potential is a seismic gap that, for historic or tectonic reasons, is considered likely to produce a large shock during the next few decades. The seismic gap technique provides estimates of the location, size of future events and origin time to within a few tens of years at best. The accompanying map summarizes six categories of seismic potential for major plate boundaries in and around the margins of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, South Sandwich and Sunda (Indonesia) regions for the next few decades. These categories range from what we consider high to low potential for being the site of large earthquakes during that period of time. Categories 1, 2 and 6 define a time-dependent potential based on the amount of time elapsed since the last large earthquake. The remaining categories, 3, 4, and 5, are used for areas that have ambiguous histories for large earthquakes; their seismic potential is inferred from various tectonic criteria. These six categories are meant to be interpreted as forecasts of the location and size of future large shocks and should not be considered to be predictions in which a precise estimate of the time of occurrence is specified. Several of the segments of major plate boundaries that are assigned the highest potential, i.e., category 1, are located along continental margins, adjacent to centers of population. Some of them are hundreds of kilometers long. High priority should be given to instrumenting and studying several of these major seismic gaps since many are now poorly instrumented. The categories of potential assigned here provide a rationale for assigning prorities for instrumentation, for future studies aimed at predicting large earthquakes and for making estimates of tsunami potential.
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