Site velocities from six separate Global Positioning System (GPS) networks comprising 374 stations have been referred to a single common Eurasia-fixed reference frame to map the velocity distribution over the entire Aegean. We use the GPS velocity field to identify deforming regions, rigid elements, and potential microplate boundaries, and build upon previous work by others to initially specify rigid elements in central Greece, the South Aegean, Anatolia, and the Sea of Marmara. We apply an iterative approach, tentatively defining microplate boundaries, determining best fit rigid rotations, examining misfit patterns, and revising the boundaries to achieve a better match between model and data. Short-term seismic cycle effects are minor contaminants of the data that we remove when necessary to isolate the long-term kinematics. We find that present day Aegean deformation is due to the relative motions of four microplates and straining in several isolated zones internal to them. The RMS misfit of model to data is about 2-sigma, very good when compared to the typical match between coseismic fault models and GPS data. The simplicity of the microplate description of the deformation and its good fit to the GPS data are surprising and were not anticipated by previous work, which had suggested either many rigid elements or broad deforming zones that comprise much of the Aegean region. The isolated deforming zones are also unexpected and cannot be explained by the kinematics of the microplate motions. Strain rates within internally deforming zones are extensional and range from 30 to 50 nanostrain/year (nstrain/year, 10-9/year), 1 to 2 orders of magnitude lower than rates observed across the major microplate boundaries. Lower strain rates may exist elsewhere withi the microplates but are only resolved in Anatolia, where extension of 13 ?? 4 nstrain/ year is required by the data. Our results suggest that despite the detailed complexity of active continental deformation revealed by seismicity, active faulting, fault geomorphology, and earthquake fault plane solutions, continental tectonics, at least in the Aegean, is to first order very similar to global plate tectonics and obeys the same simple kinematic rules. Although the widespread distribution of Aegean seismicity and active faulting might suggest a rather spatially homogeneous seismic hazard, the focusing of deformation near microplate boundaries implies the highest hazard is comparably localized.
Additional publication details
New constraints on the active tectonic deformation of the Aegean