The modest seismicity of the northern Red Sea rift

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Abstract

Inferring tectonic movements from earthquakes (seismotectonics) relies on earthquakes faithfully recording tectonic motions. In the northern half of the Red Sea, however, events of magnitude 5.0 and above are almost entirely absent from global catalogues, even though GPS and other plate motion data suggest that the basin is actively rifting at ~10 mm yr -1 . Seismic moments computed here from event magnitudes contributed to the International Seismology Centre (ISC) suggest that the moment release rate is more than an order of magnitude smaller than for the southern Red Sea and for the Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR), which is spreading at a comparable rate to the central Red Sea and is more remote from recording stations. A smaller moment release rate in the northern Red Sea might be anticipated from its smaller spreading rate, but seismic coupling coefficients, which account for spreading rate variations, are also one order of magnitude smaller than for the other two areas. We explore potential explanations for this apparently reduced seismicity. The northern Red Sea is almost continuously covered with thick evaporites and overlying Plio-Pleistocene sediments. These deposits may have reduced the thickness of the seismogenic layer, for example, by elevating lithosphere temperatures by a thermal blanketing effect or by leading to excess pore fluid pressures that reduce effective stress. The presence of subdued seismicity here implies that tectonic movements can in places be poorly recorded by earthquake data and requires that alternative data be sought when investigating the active tectonics of sedimented rifts in particular.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1507-1523
Number of pages17
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Volume214
Issue number3
Early online date5 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2018

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