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    Solid earth sciences


    Abrupt water temperature increases near seafoor during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake

    Daisuke Inazu, Yoshihiro Ito, Ryota Hino, Wataru Tanikawa

    Seafloor temperature, Seafloor pressure, 2011 Tohoku earthquake, Water temperature increase, Built-in thermometer, Ambient water temperature, Vertical structure of water temperature, Warm water discharge, Subseafloor fluid, Turbidity current

    (Left) Schematic illustration of the suggested scenario of subseafloor warm water migration, discharge, and spreading after the 2011 Mw 9 Tohoku earthquake. The vertical spreading height is estimated based on the observed seafloor temperature anomalies with a potential temperature structure (Right).

    We investigated temperature records associated with seafloor pressure observations at eight stations that experienced the 2011 Mw 9 Tohoku earthquake near its epicenter. The temperature data were based on the temperature measured inside the pressure transducer. We proposed a method to estimate ambient water temperature from the internal temperature using an equation of heat conduction. The estimated seafloor water temperature showed remarkable anomalies, especially increases several hours after the Mw 9 earthquake. A station of P03 (sea depth of 1.1 km) showed an abrupt temperature increase of + 0.19 °C that occurred ~ 3 h after the earthquake, which lasted for several hours. At stations of GJT3 (sea depth of 3.3 km) and TJT1 (sea depth of 5.8 km), there were abrupt temperature anomalies of + 0.20 °C and + 0.10 °C that began to occur 3–4 h after the earthquake. These anomalies both decayed to their original levels over a few tens of days. During the decay processes, only TJT1 showed several intermittent temperature rises. A water temperature anomaly within + 0.03 °C was found up to ~ 500 m above TJT1 2 weeks after the earthquake. There was no significant anomaly at the other five stations. Processes to cause these seafloor temperature anomalies were discussed. The temperature anomaly of P03 was reasonably caused by a tsunami-generated turbidity current, as also suggested by a previous study. Meanwhile, we proposed a scenario that the abrupt temperature anomalies of GJT3/TJT1 and the intermittent anomalies of TJT1 were caused by warm water discharges from the subseafloor. The pathways of the warm water were probably composed of the branch normal fault between GJT3 and TJT1, the reverse fault near TJT1, the backstop interface, and perhaps reverse faults at the frontal prism. The proposed scenario was almost compatible with other studies based on epicentral observations. We estimated the heat properties of the initial temperature anomalies of GJT3/TJT1. The estimated heat source might be explained by that most of the geothermal fluids trapped in those fault pathways were discharged to the seafloor immediately after the earthquake. The onsets of the subsequent intermittent anomalies of TJT1 were possibly activated by low or falling ocean tidal loading.