Illuminating the near-sonic rupture velocities of the intracontinental Kokoxili Mw 7.8 and Denali fault Mw 7.9 strike-slip earthquakes with global P wave back projection imaging



[1] The Denali and Kokoxili strike-slip earthquakes are two of the longest recent intracontinental ruptures. Previous studies report a range of rupture velocities. Here we image these earthquakes by reverse time migration of the intermediate-frequency P wave train recorded by global broadband seismometers. This technique permits a relatively direct measure of rupture velocity (speed and direction) as constrained by the radiated seismic energy, free from restrictive assumptions or rupture speed bounds placed on the solution. We compare our results with published seismic, GPS displacement, and surface slip inversion results. Both ruptures were initially subshear and transitioned over a distance no longer than 40 km to supershear speeds close to the P wave speed of ∼5.6 km/s. We investigate the accuracy of our results with synthetic data and experiment with using different imaging parameters and seismic subnetworks. These tests allow us to rule out the possibility of subshear speeds along the supershear segments. Although we cannot exclude supershear speeds of 4.5–6.5 km/s, our most reliable rupture velocities of ∼5.6 km/s are close to the local P wave speeds. We hypothesize that these intracontinental faults have weak shear strengths or high breakdown slips or crustal rigidities and experience at least moderate slip or slip rate weakening. Our observations and previous published results lead us to speculate that very long, surface-extending faults with general homogeneity in prestress and fault strength, together with smaller adjacent fault segments to provide triggering, may be necessary ingredients for the sub-Rayleigh to supershear rupture speed transition in strike-slip earthquakes.