Seismic attenuation tomography of the Northeast Japan arc: Insight into the 2011 Tohoku earthquake (Mw9.0) and subduction dynamics

Xin Liu, Dapeng Zhao, Sanzhong Li

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63 Citations (Scopus)


Detailed three-dimensional (3-D) P and S wave attenuation (Qp and Qs) models of the crust and upper mantle under the entire Northeast Japan (Tohoku) arc from the Japan Trench to the Japan Sea coast are determined, for the first time, using a large number of high-quality t* data measured precisely from P and S wave spectra of local earthquakes. The suboceanic earthquakes used in this work are relocated precisely using sP depth phases. Our results reveal a prominent landward dipping high-Q zone representing the subducting Pacific slab, a landward dipping intermediate- To high-Q zone in the mantle wedge between the Pacific coast and the volcanic front, and significant low-Q anomalies in the crust and mantle wedge between the volcanic front and the Japan Sea coast. Prominent high-Q patches surrounded by low-Q anomalies are revealed in the interplate megathrust zone under the Tohoku fore arc where the great 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake (Mw 9.0) occurred. The high-Q patches in the megathrust zone generally exhibit large coseismic slips of megathrust earthquakes and large slip deficit on the plate interface. We think that these high-Q patches represent asperities in the megathrust zone, whereas the low-Q anomalies reflect weakly coupled areas. We also find that the hypocenters of the 2011 Tohoku-oki interplate earthquakes (Mw > 7.0) are located in areas where Qp, Qs, and Qp/Qs change abruptly. These results suggest that structural heterogeneities in the megathrust zone control the interplate seismic coupling and the nucleation of megathrust earthquakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1094-1118
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Feb


  • Detailed 3-D Qp and Qs models under entire tohoku arc are determined
  • Megathrust earthquakes occurred in or around high-Q zones
  • Pacific slab appears as a high-Q zone and low-Q zones exist in the mantle wedge


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