Collaborative Research: Quantifying Incoming Plate Hydration and Role of Fluids on Megathrust Properties In and Around the Guerrero Gap, Offshore Mexico

Lead PI: Dr. Anne Becel

Unit Affiliation: Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

December 2020 - November 2021
North America ; Guerrero Gap ; Mexico
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The plate boundary in subduction zone settings is known to exhibit a wide spectrum of behavior for how the two tectonic plates slide past each other. Many questions remain about what controls the wide spectrum of slip behavior within and between different subduction zone systems worldwide. Seawater delivered into the subduction zone by the incoming oceanic plate is commonly invoked to explain variability of plate interface slip behavior. However, the volume and distribution of seawater incorporated into the downgoing oceanic plate and its fate at depth vary between subduction zones and is poorly known owing to the limited amount of existing observations. The Guerrero Gap and neighboring segments at the Middle America subduction zone, offshore Mexico, is one of the best-known examples in the world of along-strike variations in slip behavior of the plate boundary. The Guerrero Gap has not ruptured in a M>7 earthquake in more than 100 years but the largest known relatively shallow slow-slip events that release energy slowly without generating strong seismic waves occur approximately every 4 yrs. In contrast, the neighboring segments have ruptured in M>7 earthquakes and appear to be strongly locked. This project will involve the acquisition and analysis of marine, active-source seismic data within the Guerrero Seismic Gap and neighboring segments in order to obtain critical constraints on the properties and geometry of the subduction zone faults, including the abundance and distribution of fluids in both the incoming oceanic plate and within the subduction zone. Results from this project will be valuable for understanding the role of fluids (e.g. seawater) in influencing the contrasting slip behavior both at this margin and similar subduction zones. This project will support two early career scientists and one pre-tenured scientist and will involve a strong collaboration between US, Mexican and Japanese scientists. The proposed study will also strongly complement an ongoing amphibious geodetic and seismic deployment led by Mexican and Japanese collaborators.

A 47.5 day, combined 2D wide-angle seismic reflection/refraction and ultra-long offset multi-channel seismic (MCS) survey will be conducted onboard the R/V Marcus G. Langseth. This project includes six primary profiles along which both MCS and Ocean Bottom Seismometer (OBS) data will be acquired, and additional MCS profiles that extend seismic imaging over a larger extent of the margin. This study of the Guerrero Gap and neighboring segments will yield unique insights into two core questions: (1) What is the hydration state of the incoming, young sediment-starved Cocos oceanic plate at the Middle America subduction zone, and how does it vary along-strike and relate to changes in subduction zone behavior? MCS imaging and P and S- waves velocity models from OBS and streamer data, including full-waveform inversion as well as joint inversion of shots and earthquakes, will provide the first estimates of the amount and distribution of water in the incoming plate prior to subduction from the ridge axis to the trench axis and both in and outside of the Guerrero Gap, allowing us to examine the role of fluids in subduction zone processes and results will be compared the young but well-sedimented Cascadia and Nankai subducting plates, (2) How do geometrical and material properties of the subducting and overriding plates influence slip behavior along the megathrust fault. Controlled- source seismic data will bring new, high-resolution constraints on the architecture and properties of the upper 20-30 km of this subduction zone on parts of the megathrust that have different degrees of coupling and slip behavior. This will enable the testing of competing ideas for controls on slip behavior developed at other subduction zones, such as variations in pore-fluid pressure or fault zone heterogeneity. Addressing this question will require a synthesis of constraints on plate boundary properties from this project with results on slip behavior from an ongoing multi-year deployment of geodetic and seismic stations within the Guerrero Gap.