Seismic velocity changes of P and S waves associated with the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake (Mw 9.0) as inferred from analyses of repeating earthquakes

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P and S waves radiating from repeating earthquakes are analysed to identify subtle changes in seismic wave velocity associated with the Mw 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake at shallow and deep zones in NE Japan. Accurate measurement of the changes in traveltimes of P and S waves needs high precision of the repeating earthquake's hypocentre parameters, but a large area of NE Japan was damaged so that usual hypocentre relocation methods may not be applicable. Therefore, we develop a new inversion method to simultaneously determine velocity changes of the structure as well as hypocentre parameters of repeating earthquakes. We represent arrival time differences of body waves from a pair of repeating earthquakes occurring before and after a target large earthquake by linear equations of relative locations, origin times and station correction factors, and determine these parameters by using a least-squares method. Arrival time differences at stations for a set of 25 repeating earthquakes are measured by comparing the observed waveforms. Applying the inversion method to these data, we find that traveltime delays up to about 0.04 s for the S wave are widely distributed in NE Japan close to the large slip area of the Tohoku-Oki earthquake. Traveltime delays for P waves are much smaller than those for S waves. The spatial change of traveltime delays are not well correlated with those of strong motions. This implies that the traveltime delays are not caused only in the shallow subsurface. To investigate where the seismic velocity changes occur, we separately analyse the repeating earthquakes occurring in the north and south regions of NE Japan, and observe a spatial shift of large station correction factors for the S wave: large station correction factors estimated from the repeating earthquakes located in the north are shifted to the south area of NE Japan, while those from the repeating earthquakes of the south are shifted to the north area. From comparisons of these spatial changes in the observed time differences with results obtained from forward modeling of direct S wave, the velocity decrease of about 0.1 per cent is inferred to extend in N-S direction in the middle of NE Japan with a depth of approximately 25 km. Our results provide important evidence that the medium changes after a megathrust earthquake such as the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake are not limited to surface layers due to the effects of strong ground motion, but extend deeper in the crust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-533
Number of pages17
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr 1


  • Body waves
  • Earthquake ground motions
  • Seismic tomography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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