We examine micro-earthquake records from a dense temporary array of ocean bottom seismometers (OBS) and hydrophones that has been installed from September to November 2005 at the trench outer rise offshore Nicaragua. Approximately 1.5 locatable earthquakes per day within the array of 110 × 120 km show the high seismic activity in this region. Seismicity is restricted to the upper ∼15 km of the mantle and hence where temperatures reach 350–400 °C, which is smaller than values observed for large mantle intraplate events (650 °C). Determination of moment tensor solutions suggest a change of the stress region from tensional in the upper layers of the oceanic plate to compressional beneath. The neutral plane between both regimes is located at ∼6–9 km beneath Moho and thus very shallow. Fluids, which are thought to travel through the tensional fault system into the upper mantle, may not be able to penetrate any deeper.
The earthquake catalogue, which seems to be complete for magnitudes above Mw= 1.6–1.8, suggests a strong change of the lithospheric rheology when approaching the trench. And b-factors, that is the ratio between small and large earthquakes increase significantly in the closest 20 km to the trench axis, implying that the crust and upper mantle is massively weakened and hence ruptures more frequently but under less release of stress. We explain this with a partly serpentinized upper mantle.