Geophysical Research Letters

Seismic evidence for thermal runaway during intermediate-depth earthquake rupture



[1] Intermediate-depth earthquakes occur at depths where temperatures and pressures exceed those at which brittle failure is expected. There are two leading candidates for the physical mechanism behind these earthquakes: dehydration embrittlement and self-localizing thermal shear runaway. A complete energy budget for a range of earthquake sizes can help constrain whether either of these mechanisms might play a role in intermediate-depth earthquake rupture. The combination of high stress drop and low radiation efficiency that we observe for Mw 4–5 earthquakes in the Bucaramanga Nest implies a temperature increase of 600–1000°C for a centimeter-scale layer during earthquake failure. This suggests that substantial shear heating, and possibly partial melting, occurs during intermediate-depth earthquake failure. Our observations support thermal shear runaway as the mechanism for intermediate-depth earthquakes, which would help explain differences in their behavior compared to shallow earthquakes.