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    Solid earth sciences


    Heterogeneous rheology of Japan subduction zone revealed by postseismic deformation of the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake

    Sambuddha Dhar, Jun Muto, Yusaku Ohta, Takeshi Iinuma

    Postseismic deformation, GNSS observations, viscoelastic relaxation, afterslip, nonlinear rheology, earthquake deformation cycle, rheological heterogeneity

    Post-seismic deformation observations for 10 years after the Tohoku offshore earthquake (left), and the heterogeneous rheological structure estimated from them (right).

    The 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake produced the most well-recorded postseismic deformation of any megathrust earthquake in the world. Over the last decade, researchers have used a dense and widespread geodetic network of more than 1300 Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) stations inland, as well as the about 50 stations on the seafloor, to investigate the various deformation sources responsible for the observed crustal deformation. One of the contributing mechanisms to this crustal deformation is the stress relaxation of the viscoelastic mantle beneath the Japanese arc. As evident in experimental rock physics and geophysical observations, ambient mantle conditions and related rheology are expected to be heterogeneous in space. However, the contribution of such rheological heterogeneities to the postseismic deformation is still poorly understood. Here, we piece together several rheological heterogeneities inferred from the decade-long postseismic deformation of the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake. We reviewed more than twenty postseismic models to understand how viscoelastic earth can influence the postseismic surface deformation observed after the Tohoku-oki earthquake. Besides, we employed several synthetic models to tease out the contribution of individual rheological heterogeneities such as depth-dependent rheology of mantle wedge, oceanic asthenosphere, and low-viscosity zone beneath the volcanic front. We demonstrate that the vertical postseismic observation is the key to unravel rheological complexity beneath northeastern Japan. The broader vertical deformation pattern reveals the major viscosity contrast between backarc and forearc, and small-scale subsidence detects the presence of low-viscosity bodies related to arc magmatism. In short, this review paper provides a vista of three-dimensional heterogeneous rheology of viscoelastic earth. These rheological heterogeneities may play a crucial role in bridging the gap between our understanding of different phase of subduction zone earthquake cycle.