Heterogeneities in Stress and Strength in Tohoku and Its Relationship with Earthquake Sequences Triggered by the 2011 M9 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

Keisuke Yoshida, Akira Hasegawa, Takeyoshi Yoshida, Toru Matsuzawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Inland Tohoku has been recognized as under the WNW-ESE compressional stress state before the 2011 M9 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. Earthquakes that occurred there were characterized by reverse faulting with the compressional axis oriented in almost the WNW-ESE direction. The Tohoku-Oki earthquake reduced this WNW-ESE compressional stress and, therefore, should have suppressed the earthquake occurrence. However, several intensive earthquake sequences were triggered in inland Tohoku. In this study, we investigated the triggering mechanism of these remote earthquake sequences in the stress shadow based on the detailed distribution of stress orientations newly determined from pre-mainshock focal mechanism data. The spatial distribution of stress orientations shows that there exist some regions with anomalous stress fields even before the Tohoku-Oki earthquake on the spatial scale of a few tens of kilometers. This spatial heterogeneity in the stress field suggests that the differential stress magnitude in inland Tohoku is low (a few tens of MPa). Locations of the earthquake clusters tend to correspond to regions where the principal stress axis orientations of the pre-mainshock period are similar to those of the static stress change by the Tohoku-Oki earthquake. This observation suggests that these earthquake sequences were triggered by a local increase in differential stress due to the static stress change. However, a few swarm sequences occurred in central Tohoku with delays ranging from a few days to few weeks after the Tohoku-Oki earthquake despite the reduction in differential stress. These sequences have notable characteristics including upward migration of hypocenters. Such features are similar to the fluid-injection induced seismicity. The source regions of these swarms are located near the ancient caldera structures and major geological boundaries. The swarm activities were probably triggered by the upward fluid movement along such pre-existing structures. These observations demonstrate that information about the temporal evolutions of both stress and frictional strength is necessary to understand the triggering mechanism of earthquakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1335-1355
Number of pages21
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Mar 6


  • 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake
  • Coulomb’s stress
  • aftershock
  • pore pressure
  • stress shadow
  • stress tensor inversion


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