The great 1933 Sanriku-oki earthquake: Reappraisal of the main shock and its aftershocks and implications for its tsunami using regional tsunami and seismic data

Naoki Uchida, Stephen H. Kirby, Norihito Umino, Ryota Hino, Tomoe Kazakami

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The aftershock distribution of the 1933 Sanriku-oki outer trench earthquake is estimated by using modern relocation methods and a newly developed velocity structure to examine the spatial extent of the source-fault and the possibility of a triggered interplate seismicity. In this study, we first examined the regional data quality of the 1933 earthquake based on smokedpaper records and then relocated the earthquakes by using the 3-D velocity structure and double-difference method. The improvements of hypocentre locations using these methods were confirmed by the examination of recent earthquakes that are accurately located based on ocean bottom seismometer data. The results show that the 1933 aftershocks occurred under both the outer- and inner-trench-slope regions. In the outer-trench-slope region, aftershocks are distributed in a~280-km-long area and their depths are shallower than 50 km. Although we could not constrain the fault geometry from the hypocentre distribution, the depth distribution suggests the whole lithosphere is probably not under deviatoric tension at the time of the 1933 earthquake. The occurrence of aftershocks under the inner trench slope was also confirmed by an investigation of waveform frequency difference between outer and inner trench earthquakes as recorded at Mizusawa. The earthquakes under the inner trench slope were shallow (depth ≦30 km) and the waveforms show a low-frequency character similar to the waveforms of recent, precisely located earthquakes in the same area. They are also located where recent activity of interplate thrust earthquakes is high. These suggest that the 1933 outer-trenchslope main shock triggered interplate earthquakes, which is an unusual case in the order of occurrence in contrast with the more common pairing of a large initial interplate shock with subsequent outer-slope earthquakes. The off-trench earthquakes are distributed about 80 km width in the trench perpendicular direction. This wide width cannot be explained from a single high-angle fault confined at a shallow depth (depth ≦50 km). The upward motion of the 1933 tsunami waveform records observed at Sanriku coast also cannot be explained from a single high-angle west-dipping normal fault. If we consider additional fault, involvement of highangle, east-dipping normal faults can better explain the tsunami first motion and triggering of the aftershock in a wide area under the outer trench slope. Therefore multiple off-trench normal faults may have activated during the 1933 earthquake.We also relocated recent (2001-2012) seismicity by the same method. The results show that the present seismicity in the outer-trench-slope region can be divided into several groups along the trench. Comparison of the 1933 rupture dimensions based on our aftershock relocations with the morphologies of fault scarps in the outer trench slope suggest that the rupture was limited to the region where fault scarps are largely trench parallel and cross cut the seafloor spreading fabric. These findings imply that bending geometry and structural segmentation of the incoming plate largely controls the spatial extent of the 1933 seismogenic faulting. In this shallow rupture model for this largest outer trench earthquake, triggered seismicity in the forearc and structural control of faulting represent an important deformation styles for off-trench and shallow megathrust zones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1619-1633
Number of pages15
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Sep 1


  • Dynamics: seismotectonics
  • Earthquake dynamics
  • Earthquake source observations
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Seismicity and tectonics
  • Subduction zone processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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