• earthquake cycle;
  • GPS;
  • InSAR;
  • northern Chile;
  • subduction zone


The different phases of the earthquake cycle can produce measurable deformation of the Earth's surface. This work is aimed at describing the evolution of that deformation in space and time, as well as the distribution of causal slip on the fault at depth. We have applied GPS and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) interferometry (InSAR) techniques to northern Chile, where fast plate convergence rates are associated with large subduction earthquakes and extensive crustal deformation. The region of northern Chile between 18°S and 23°S is one of the most important seismic gaps in the world, with no rupture having occurred since 1877. In 1995, the Mw= 8.1 Antofagasta earthquake ruptured the subduction interface over a length of 180 km in the region immediately to the south of this 450 km long gap. The coseismic deformation associated with this event has been documented previously. Here we use GPS position time-series for 40 benchmarks (measured between 1996 and 2000) and ERS SAR interferograms (for the interval between 1995 and 1999) to map both the post-seismic deformation following the 1995 event and the ongoing interseismic deformation in the adjacent gap region. In the seismic gap, the interseismic velocities of 20–30 mm yr−1 to the east with respect to South America are mapped. Both the GPS and the InSAR measurements can be modelled with 100 per cent coupling of the thrust interface of the subduction to a depth of 35 km, with a transition zone extending down to 55 km depth. The slip rate in that zone increases linearly from zero to the plate convergence rate. South of the gap, the interferometric map shows interseismic deformation superimposed with deformation following the 1995 earthquake and covering the same area as the coseismic deformation. Some 40 per cent of this deformation is related to seismic activity in the 3.3 yr following the 1995 event, in particular slip during a Mw= 7.1 earthquake in 1998. However, most of the signal (60 per cent) corresponds to post-seismic deformation resulting from widespread aseismic slip in the subduction interface. The afterslip appears to have occurred down-dip in the transition zone at 35–55 km depth and to have propagated laterally northwards at 25–45 km depth under the Mejillones Peninsula, which is a prominent geomorphological feature at the boundary between the 1877 and 1995 rupture zones. We propose a simple slip model for the seismic cycle associated with the Antofagasta earthquake, where the transition zone alternates between aseismic shear and seismic slip.