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The hidden simplicity of subduction megathrust earthquakes

Meier, M.-A. and Ampuero, J. P. and Heaton, T. H. (2017) The hidden simplicity of subduction megathrust earthquakes. Science, 357 (6357). pp. 1277-1281. ISSN 0036-8075. doi:10.1126/science.aan5643.

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The largest observed earthquakes occur on subduction interfaces and frequently cause widespread damage and loss of life. Understanding the rupture behavior of megathrust events is crucial for earthquake rupture physics, as well as for earthquake early-warning systems. However, the large variability in behavior between individual events seemingly defies a description with a simple unifying model. Here we use three source time function (STF) data sets for subduction zone earthquakes, with moment magnitude M_w ≥ 7, and show that such large ruptures share a typical universal behavior. The median STF is scalable between events with different sizes, grows linearly, and is nearly triangular. The deviations from the median behavior are multiplicative and Gaussian—that is, they are proportionally larger for larger events. Our observations suggest that earthquake magnitudes cannot be predicted from the characteristics of rupture onsets.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Materials
Meier, M.-A.0000-0002-2949-8602
Ampuero, J. P.0000-0002-4827-7987
Heaton, T. H.0000-0003-3363-2197
Additional Information:© 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Received 2 May 2017; accepted 23 August 2017. The STF data used in this study were generated by Ye et al. (2016), and can be accessed from The finite fault models and STFs from Hayes (2017) can be obtained through the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center Combined Catalog ( The STFs from Vallée et al. (2011) can be downloaded from This study has been partially funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. J.P.A. acknowledges funding from NSF CAREER award EAR-1151926. We thank L. Ye, H. Kanamori, K. Dahmen, N. Lapusta, H. Owhadi, L. Rivera, D. Sornette, and J.-P. Avouac for discussions, and M. Vallée and G. Hayes for providing their STF data sets.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)UNSPECIFIED
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:6357
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170925-075055125
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:The hidden simplicity of subduction megathrust earthquakes BY M.-A. MEIER, J. P. AMPUERO, T. H. HEATON SCIENCE 22 SEP 2017 : 1277-1281
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:81791
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:25 Sep 2017 17:49
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 19:46

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