The rupture process and asperity distribution of three great earthquakes from long-period diffracted P-waves
Maximum earthquake size varies considerably amongst the subduction zones. This has been interpreted as a variation in the seismic coupling, which is presumably related to the mechanical conditions of the fault zone. The rupture process of a great earthquake indicates the distribution of strong (asperities) and weak regions of the fault. The rupture process of three great earthquakes (1963 Kurile Islands, MW = 8.5; 1965 Rat Islands, MW = 8.7; 1964 Alaska, MW = 9.2) are studied by using WWSSN stations in the core shadow zone. Diffraction around the core attenuates the P-wave amplitudes such that on-scale long-period P-waves are recorded. There are striking differences between the seismograms of the great earthquakes; the Alaskan earthquake has the largest amplitude and a very long-period nature, while the Kurile Islands earthquake appears to be a sequence of magnitude 7.5 events. The source time functions are deconvolved from the observed records. The Kurile Islands rupture process is characterized by the breaking of asperities with a length scale of 40-60 km, and for the Alaskan earthquake the dominant length scale in the epicentral region is 140-200 km. The variation of length scale and MW suggests that larger asperities cause larger earthquakes. The source time function of the 1979 Colombia earthquake ( MW = 8.3) is also deconvolved. This earthquake is characterized by a single asperity of length scale 100-120 km, which is consistent with the above pattern, as the Colombia subduction zone was previously ruptured by a great ( MW = 8.8) earthquake in 1906. The main result is that maximum earthquake size is related to the asperity distribution on the fault. The subduction zones with the largest earthquakes have very large asperities (e.g. the Alaskan earthquake), while the zones with the smaller great earthquakes (e.g. Kurile Islands) have smaller scattered asperities.