An integrated perspective of the continuum between earthquakes and slow-slip phenomena

Nature Geoscience
By:  and 



The discovery of slow-slip phenomena has revolutionized our understanding of how faults accommodate relative plate motions. Faults were previously thought to relieve stress either through continuous aseismic sliding, or as earthquakes resulting from instantaneous failure of locked faults. In contrast, slow-slip events proceed so slowly that slip is limited and only low-frequency (or no) seismic waves radiate. We find that slow-slip phenomena are not unique to the depths (tens of kilometres) of subduction zone plate interfaces. They occur on faults in many settings, at numerous scales and owing to various loading processes, including landslides and glaciers. Taken together, the observations indicate that slowly slipping fault surfaces relax most of the accrued stresses through aseismic slip. Aseismic motion can trigger more rapid slip elsewhere on the fault that is sufficiently fast to generate seismic waves. The resulting radiation has characteristics ranging from those indicative of slow but seismic slip, to those typical of earthquakes. The mode of seismic slip depends on the inherent characteristics of the fault, such as the frictional properties. Slow-slip events have previously been classified as a distinct mode of fault slip compared with that seen in earthquakes. We conclude that instead, slip modes span a continuum and are of common occurrence.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title An integrated perspective of the continuum between earthquakes and slow-slip phenomena
Series title Nature Geoscience
DOI 10.1038/ngeo940
Volume 3
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 599
Last page 607