Seismicity clusters in Central Chile: investigating the role of repeating earthquakes and swarms in a subduction region

Carla Valenzuela Malebran, Simone Cesca, Sergio Ruiz, Luigi Passarelli, Felipe Leyton, Sebastian Hainzl, Bertrand Potin, Torsten Dahm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Summary Seismicity along subduction interfaces is usually dominated by large mainshock-aftershocks sequences indicative of a continuum distribution of highly coupled large asperities. In the past decades, however, the increased resolution of seismic catalogues at some subduction zone seems to indicate instead a more complex rheological segmentation of the interface. Large and megathrust earthquake ruptures seem interspersed among regions of low seismic coupling and less stress build-up. In this weaker zones, the strain is primarily released via a combination of moderate size swarm-like seismicity and aseismic slip. Along the Chilean subduction zone, the densification of the seismic network allowed for the identification of localized seismic clusters, some of them appearing in the form of swarms before megathrust earthquakes. The origin and driving processes of this seismic activity have not yet been identified. In this study, we follow a systematic approach to characterize the seismicity at two persistent clusters in Central Chile, one located offshore Navidad and one inland, at ∼40 km depth beneath Vichuquén, which occurred throughout ∼20 years. We investigated these clusters, by deriving high resolution hypocentral locations and moment tensors and performing a detailed analysis of spatio-temporal patterns, magnitude, and inter-event time distributions of the clustered earthquakes. Both clusters are characterized by weak to moderate seismicity (below MW 6) and stand out as clear seismicity rate and Benioff strain anomalies. At the Navidad cluster, seismicity occurs in the form of swarms, with a characteristic duration of 2–7 days and location and thrust mechanisms compatible with activity on the slab interface. Conversely, we find at Vichuquén activity dominated by thrust earthquakes occurring as repeaters on the slab interface, with a slip rate of approximately ∼5.0 cm/yr. We attribute these clusters to local features of the subducting plate: the Navidad swarms are likely driven by repeated high pore pressure transients along a pre-fractured patch of the slab, while the seismicity at the Vichuquén cluster is interpreted as the result of a subducting seamount. Both clusters have been active before and after the MW 8.8 Maule earthquake and persisted afterwards with the seismicity decay following the Omori law. These interactions are especially evident for the Vichuquén cluster, where the seismicity rate increased considerably after the Maule earthquake and continues to be an area of clearly elevated seismicity rate compared to its surroundings.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalGeophysical Journal International
StatePublished - Nov 21 2020


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