• Satellite geodesy;
  • Seismicity and tectonics;
  • Intra-plate processes


The Sichuan earthquake, Mw 7.9, struck the Longmen Shan (LMS) range front, China, on 2008 May 12, affecting an area of moderate historical seismicity where little active shortening has been previously reported. Recent studies based on space geodesy have succeeded in retrieving the far field surface displacements caused by the earthquake, but the near field (±25 km from the faults) coseismic surface displacement is still poorly constrained. Thus, shallow fault geometry and shallow coseismic slip are still poorly resolved. Here, for the first time for this earthquake, we combine C and L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar offsets data from ascending and descending tracks to invert for the 3-D surface displacement in the near coseismic field of the Sichuan earthquake. Our data, coupled with a simple elastic dislocation model, provide new results strongly suggesting the presence of a blind thrust striking along the range front and being active at depth during the earthquake. The presence of a rupture on a blind thrust brings new evidence for an out-of-sequence thrusting event and new elements for interpreting the tectonic strain partitioning in the LMS, which has important implications both for seismic hazard assessment and long-term evolution of the mountain belt.