Mechanism of earthquakes and nature of faulting on the mid-oceanic ridges


  • Lynn R. Sykes


The mechanisms of 17 earthquakes on the mid-oceanic ridges and their continental extensions were investigated using data from the World-Wide Standardized Seismograph Network of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and from other long-period seismograph instruments. Mechanism solutions of high precision can now be obtained for a large number of earthquakes with magnitudes as small as 6 in many areas of the world. Less than 1% of the data used in this study are inconsistent with a quadrant distribution of first motions of the phases P and PKP; in many previous investigations 15 to 20% of the data were often inconsistent with the published solutions. Ten of the earthquakes that were studied occurred on fracture zones that intersect the crest of the mid-oceanic ridge. The mechanism of each of the shocks that is located on a fracture zone is characterized by a predominance of strike-slip motion on a steeply dipping plane; the strike of one of the nodal planes for P waves is nearly coincident with the strike of the fracture zone. The sense of strike-slip motion in each of the ten solutions is in agreement with that predicted for transform faults; it is opposite to that expected for a simple offset of the ridge crest along the various fracture zones. The spatial distribution of earthquakes along fracture zones also seems to rule out the hypothesis of simple offset. Two well documented solutions for earthquakes that are located on the mid-Atlantic ridge but that do not appear to be located on fracture zones are characterized by a predominance of normal faulting. The mechanisms of four earthquakes on extensions of the mid-oceanic ridge system—one near northern Siberia and three in East Africa—are also characterized by a predominance of normal faulting. The inferred axes of maximum tension for these six events are approximately perpendicular to the strike of the mid-oceanic ridge system. The results are in agreement with hypotheses of sea-floor growth at the crest of the mid-oceanic ridge system.