Normal and reverse faulting driven by the subduction zone earthquake cycle in the northern Chilean fore arc



[1] Despite its location in a convergent tectonic setting, the Coastal Cordillera of northern Chile between 21°S and 25°S is dominated by structures demonstrating extension in the direction of plate convergence. In some locations, however, normal faults have been reactivated as reverse faults, complicating the interpretation of long-term strain. In order to place these new observations in a tectonic context, we model stress changes induced on these faults by the subduction earthquake cycle. Our simulations predict that interseismic locking on the plate boundary encourages normal slip on fore-arc faults, which may result from elastic rebound due to interplate earthquakes or from seismic or aseismic motion that takes place within the interseismic period. Conversely, stress generated by strong subduction zone earthquakes, such as the 1995 Mw = 8.1 Antofagasta event, provides a mechanism for the reverse reactivation we document here. Upper plate fault slip in response to the low-magnitude stress changes induced by the subduction earthquake cycle suggests that the absolute level of stress on these faults is very low. Furthermore, seismic hazard analysis for northern Chile requires consideration of not only the plate boundary earthquake cycle but also the cycle on fore-arc faults that may or may not coincide with the interplate pattern. Though the relationships between permanent strain and deformation calculated using elastic models remain unclear, the compatibility of modeled stress fields with the distribution of fore-arc faulting suggests that interseismic strain accumulation and coseismic deformation on the subduction megathrust both play significant roles in shaping structural behavior in the upper plate.