Seismogenic structure in the source zone of the 1918 M7.5 NanAo earthquake in the northern South China Sea

Shaohong Xia, Pengxiang Zhou, Dapeng Zhao, Jinghe Cao

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As a typical rifted margin, the coastal region of the northern South China Sea has experienced many large crustal earthquakes in the past 400 years. For example, two destructive earthquakes with ~M7.0 in 1600 and ~M7.5 in 1918 occurred close to the NanAo Island. However, the mechanism of these earthquakes and seismotectonics of the region are still unclear. In this work we make the first study of the detailed three-dimensional crustal structure in the source zone of the 1918 NanAo earthquake (M7.5) using newly acquired wide-angle seismic reflection data. Our results show that current seismicity mostly occurred in a midcrustal low-velocity zone or its nearby high-to-low velocity transitional areas. We ascertain locations of the ENE-strike Littoral fault zone and the NW-strike Huanggangshui fault based on the seismic reflection profiles. These faults have caused a large-scale vertical dislocation of the sedimentary basement. The structure of the upper crust is very heterogeneous, containing many high or low velocity anomalies. However, the lower crustal structure is less heterogeneous, mainly characterized by low velocity mostly in the northern part of the study area and high velocity mainly in the southern part. The crust in the seismicity zone shows strong heterogeneity, reflecting highly cracked structural features possibly caused by destructive earthquakes. We infer that the midcrustal low-velocity zone and the intersection between the Littoral fault zone and the Huanggangshui fault could reflect weak structures in the crust and form a local stress buildup, which strongly affected or controlled the generation of intraplate seismicity. The 1918 NanAo earthquake very likely occurred within the current seismicity zone with a depth range of 15–25 km estimated from our tomographic images and previous geological and geophysical results.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106472
JournalPhysics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May


  • 1918 NanAo earthquake
  • Crustal structure
  • Intraplate seismicity
  • Midcrustal low-velocity zone
  • South China Sea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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