Shear wave anisotropy in the crust, mantle wedge, and subducting Pacific slab under northeast Japan

Zhouchuan Huang, Dapeng Zhao, Liangshu Wang

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To study the anisotropic structure beneath northeast (NE) Japan, we made 4366 shear wave splitting measurements using high-quality seismograms of many earthquakes occurring in the crust and the subducting Pacific slab. Our results provide important new information on the S wave anisotropy in the upper crust, lower crust, mantle wedge, and subducting Pacific slab. In the upper crust, the anisotropy is mainly caused by the stress-aligned fluid-saturated microcracks. The measured delay times (DTs) increase to 0.10 s at 10-11 km depth; the fast velocity directions (FVDs) are parallel to either the tectonic stress or the strike of active faults. The maximum DTs for the low-frequency earthquakes near the Moho are 0.15-0.17 s, suggesting strong anisotropy at the base of the crust or in the uppermost mantle. The measurements for the intermediate-depth earthquakes in the Pacific slab show dominant E-W (trench-normal) FVDs in the back-arc area and N-S (trench-parallel) FVDs in the fore-arc area. The trench-normal FVDs in the back-arc area are caused by the corner flow in the mantle wedge as a result of the subduction of the Pacific plate. The maximum DTs for the slab earthquakes reach 0.30-0.32 s at 100 km depth, but only half of the total DTs are produced in the mantle wedge. The small DTs in the mantle wedge may result from an isotropic or weak anisotropic zone in the middle of the mantle wedge. In the fore arc, the dominant trench-parallel FVDs for the slab earthquakes are consistent with those for the upper crust earthquakes, and ∼80% of the total DTs can be accounted for by the anisotropy in the crust. In the subducting Pacific slab, the trench-parallel FVDs may reflect either the original fossil anisotropy in the Pacific plate when the plate was produced in the mid-ocean ridge or the preferred orientations of the crystals and cracks in the upper part of the subducting slab.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberQ01002
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Jan 1


  • anisotropy
  • low-frequency earthquake
  • mantle wedge
  • shear wave splitting
  • subducting slab
  • subduction zone


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