Lithospheric flexure under the Hawaiian volcanic load: Internal stresses and a broken plate revealed by earthquakes
Several lines of earthquake evidence indicate that the lithospheric plate is broken under the load of the island of Hawai`i, where the geometry of the lithosphere is circular with a central depression. The plate bends concave downward surrounding a stress-free hole, rather than bending concave upward as with past assumptions. Earthquake focal mechanisms show that the center of load stress and the weak hole is between the summits of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea where the load is greatest. The earthquake gap at 21 km depth coincides with the predicted neutral plane of flexure where horizontal stress changes sign. Focal mechanism P axes below the neutral plane display a striking radial pattern pointing to the stress center. Earthquakes above the neutral plane in the north part of the island have opposite stress patterns; T axes tend to be radial. The M6.2 Honomu and M6.7 Kiholo main shocks (both at 39 km depth) are below the neutral plane and show radial compression, and the M6.0 Kiholo aftershock above the neutral plane has tangential compression. Earthquakes deeper than 20 km define a donut of seismicity around the stress center where flexural bending is a maximum. The hole is interpreted as the soft center where the lithospheric plate is broken. Kilauea's deep conduit is seismically active because it is in the ring of maximum bending. A simplified two-dimensional stress model for a bending slab with a load at one end yields stress orientations that agree with earthquake stress axes and radial P axes below the neutral plane. A previous inversion of deep Hawaiian focal mechanisms found a circular solution around the stress center that agrees with the model. For horizontal faults, the shear stress within the bending slab matches the slip in the deep Kilauea seismic zone and enhances outward slip of active flanks.