Annual modulation of non-volcanic tremor in northern Cascadia


Corresponding author: F. F. Pollitz, U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Rd., MS 977, Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA. (


[1] Two catalogs of episodic tremor events in northern Cascadia, one from 2006 to 2012 and the other from 1997 to 2011, reveal two systematic patterns of tremor occurrence in southern Vancouver Island: (1) most individual events tend to occur in the third quarter of the year; (2) the number of events in prolonged episodes (i.e., episodic tremor and slip events), which generally propagate to Vancouver Island from elsewhere along the Cascadia subduction zone, is inversely correlated with the amount of precipitation that occurred in the preceding 2 months. We rationalize these patterns as the product of hydrologic loading of the crust of southern Vancouver Island and the surrounding continental region, superimposed with annual variations from oceanic tidal loading. Loading of the Vancouver Island crust in the winter (when the land surface receives ample precipitation) and unloading in the summer tends to inhibit and enhance downdip shear stress, respectively. Quantitatively, for an annually variable surface load, the predicted stress perturbation depends on mantle viscoelastic rheology. A mechanical model of downdip shear stress on the transition zone beneath Vancouver Island—driven predominantly by the annual hydrologic cycle—is consistent with the 1997–2012 tremor observations, with peak-to-peak downdip shear stress of about 0.4 kPa. This seasonal dependence of tremor occurrence appears to be restricted to southern Vancouver Island because of its unique situation as an elongated narrow-width land mass surrounded by ocean, which permits seasonal perturbations in shear stress at depth.