• 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake;
  • back-projection;
  • seismic array

[1] The 2011 Mw 9 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, recorded by over 1000 near-field stations and multiple large-aperture arrays, is by far the best recorded earthquake in the history of seismology and provides unique opportunities to address fundamental issues in earthquake source dynamics. Here we conduct a high resolution array analysis based on recordings from the USarray and the European network. The mutually consistent results from both arrays reveal rupture complexity with unprecedented resolution, involving phases of diverse rupture speed and intermittent high frequency bursts within slow speed phases, which suggests spatially heterogeneous material properties. The earthquake initially propagates down-dip, with a slow initiation phase followed by sustained propagation at speeds of 3 km/s. The rupture then slows down to 1.5 km/s for 60 seconds. A rich sequence of bursts is generated along the down-dip rim of this slow and roughly circular rupture front. Before the end of the slow phase an extremely fast rupture front detaches at about 5 km/s towards the North. Finally a rupture front propagates towards the south running at about 2.5 km/s for over 100 km. Key features of the rupture process are confirmed by the strong motion data recorded by K-net and KIK-net. The energetic high frequency radiation episodes within a slow rupture phase suggests a patchy image of the brittle-ductile transition zone, composed of discrete brittle asperities within a ductile matrix. The high frequency is generated mainly at the down-dip edge of the principal slip regions constrained by geodesy, suggesting a variation along dip of the mechanical properties of the mega thrust fault or their spatial heterogeneity that affects rise time.