The effects of temperature on the mechanics of deep earthquakes are investigated based on detailed seismic images of a horizontal portion of the Tonga slab (19°S to 22°S). The hypocenter distribution of deep earthquakes and tomographic models have shown that the Tonga slab in this region stagnates laterally around the upper-and lower-mantle boundary. We analyze data from seismic networks in the United States and Japan from the deepest earthquakes that occurred in the stagnating part of the slab (focal depths 658 to 678 km). We observe a clear arrival approximately 8 s after the direct P wave and find that it is an S-to-P converted wave emitted upward from the deepest earthquake foci and reflected downward by a horizontal interface located nearly 30 km above the foci. The S wave speed drops upward across the interface by a few percent, so the interface is best interpreted as the former oceanic Moho in the stagnating Tonga slab. A numerical model of the thermal structure of the Tonga slab is constructed based upon the slab geometry, with the dynamics of the slab motion being incorporated. We find that if the deepest earthquakes occur in the coldest part of the slab, the vertical distance between the foci and the Moho should be approximately 30 km, which agrees well with the observations. The temperature around the foci is determined to be 750°C. We suggest that deep earthquakes are stringently restricted below this temperature, near the bottom of the upper mantle.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Space and Planetary Science