The largest instrumentally recorded earthquake in Taiwan: revised location and magnitude, and tectonic significance of the 1920 event

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SUMMARY

The Ryukyu subduction is known to generate very few earthquakes in its central segment contrarily to its two extremities. We focus in this study on the southernmost part of the Ryukyu subduction zone offshore east Taiwan. Our first task was to build a homogeneous earthquake catalogue for the period 1900–2007. The new catalogue provides homogenized MW magnitudes and shows that several MW≥ 7.0 earthquakes occurred offshore Hualien and Suao cities. We then focused on the 1920 June 5 earthquake (reported surface wave magnitude 8.1) previously located beneath the accretionary prism. The revised moment magnitude has been estimated in our catalogue at 7.7 ± 0.2. It is the biggest earthquake ever recorded in the Taiwan area but the fault that has produced this earthquake has not yet been identified with confidence. We relocated this event using regional phases (seismological bulletins archived at the Central Weather Bureau of Taiwan) about 50 km NNE and shallower of its former location, that is, within the Ryukyu Arc basement. According to earthquake bulletin information, revised magnitude, new hypocentral determination and known regional faults, we propose four potential active faults as candidates for the slip associated to this event: (1) the interplate seismogenic zone (ISZ), (2) an out-of-sequence thrust cutting through the forearc and branching on the ISZ, (3) a NS strike-slip fault cutting through the Ryukyu arc and (4) a N–S, westward dipping thrust fault, affecting the Philippine Sea Plate east of the Luzon Arc. The best compromise is to consider a rupture along the ISZ with a shallow nucleation possibly along a splay-fault followed by a downward and lateral propagation of the rupture that would explain the lack of significant seafloor motion and subsequent tsunami. We also estimate the maximum seismic coupling of the ISZ in the region east of Taiwan to about 0.4. In parallel, the evidences of aseismic slip occurring along the ISZ allow us to conclude that this region should only be affected by M < 8 earthquakes.

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