Insights into Earthquake Initiation and Rupture from a Glacial Stick-Slip Cycle

Grace Barcheck, Cornell University

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 at 10:30 AM

Online-only seminar via Microsoft Teams
Colin Pennington

Because seismogenic faults are typically buried at great depth, high spatial resolution observations of interactions between slow slip, fast slip, and locked asperities are limited. The Whillans Ice Plain is a large (~100x150 km2), thin (< 1km), stick-slipping glacier in West Antarctica where these interactions are much easier to observe. I will present analysis of many repeat glacier stick-slip events, or ice stream earthquakes, which I show are usually triggered by periods of accelerated slow slip in creeping regions surrounding a primary locked asperity. Low effective stresses make this system a valuable natural analog to tectonic faults by magnifying and decelerating slip processes before and during daily fault-wide ice stream earthquakes, in which the ice slides ~0.5-1 m in ~25 min. Kinematic GPS and broadband seismometers on the ice surface readily distinguish spatial patterns of background locking and creep, revealing a large, locked, and isolated central asperity, heterogeneous creep in surrounding un-locked regions, and abundant evidence for migratory nucleation of ice stream earthquakes. I use data from 9 GPS and 76 ice stream earthquakes in 2014 to investigate timing of failure of the locked central asperity in relation to tidally-controlled heterogeneous slip rates in surrounding creeping regions. I find that the main ice stream earthquake, in which the central asperity fails and the entire fault ruptures, is slip-predictable and likely involves complete stress drop, with total slip, peak velocity, and peak acceleration all scaling with elapsed time since the previous event and therefore with accumulated stress from an approximately constant loading. However, event recurrence times range from 8-28 hrs, and for >80% of events, GPS reveal that failure of the central asperity is triggered or nucleated within minutes to several hours by migratory accelerated slow slip caused by falling tide in a region between the asperity and the floating ice shelf. In this simple system, ice stream earthquake moment depends on large scale stresses on the asperity from constant upstream loading, while timing depends on local stress concentration from heterogeneous slip in surrounding regions. These results are relevant for understanding interactions between locked and slowly slipping regions on tectonic faults.

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