Along-arc structural variation of the plate boundary at the Japan Trench margin: Implication of interplate coupling



[1] At the Japan Trench convergent margin, many large interplate earthquakes of greater than M7.5 frequently occur. Their epicenters have uneven distribution, mostly located in the northern area. To investigate the relationship between this distribution and tectonic structures, we have conducted multichannel seismic surveys since 1996. Our data show two kinds of interplate sedimentary units: a wedge-shaped unit and a channel-like unit. Both units have a lower P wave velocity than the basal part of the overriding island arc crust. The wedge-shaped unit having a velocity of 2–3 km/s is widely distributed over the forearc region in the northern area. Its thickness decreases with depth, becoming several hundred meters at a depth of ∼12 km. The channel-like unit having a velocity of 3–4 km/s is observed in the southern area, extending in the downdip direction. Its thickness reaches ∼2 km at a depth of ∼12 km. If the low velocity of these units results from the existence of fluid, as many authors assume, the units being thick implies higher fluid content assuming constant porosity. Considering that fluid reduces basal friction and with an assumption that fluid available at a specific interface is proportional to the total fluid content in the sediment, the thickness variation of the units would cause different degrees of coupling at the plate boundary along the arc. This may provide one explanation for the regional disparity in the interplate earthquake occurrence in the margin. Furthermore, we attempt to call attention to the possibility that the channel-like sediment works as a shear stress releaser.