pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 126, Issue 2–4, pp 701–718 | Cite as

Mechanisms of seismic quiescences

  • Christopher H. Scholz
Mechanical Models


In the past decade there have been major advances in understanding the seismic cycle in terms of the recognition of characteristic patterns of seismicity over the entire tectonic loading cycle. The most distinctive types of patterns are seismic quiescences, of which three types can be recognized:post-seismic quiescence, which occurs in the region of the rupture zone of an earthquake and persists for a substantial fraction of the recurrence time following the earthquake,intermediate-term quiescences, which appear over a similar region and persist for several years prior to large plate-rupturing earthquakes, andshort-term quiescences, which are pronounced lulls in premonitory swarms that occur in the hypocentral region hours or days before an earthquake. Although the frequency with which intermediate-term and short-term quiescences precede earthquakes is not known, and the statistical significance of some of the former has been challenged, there is a need, if this phenomena is to be considered a possibly real precursor, to consider physical mechanisms that may be responsible for them.

The characteristic features of these quiescences are reviewed, and possible mechanisms for their cause are discussed. Post-seismic quiescence can be readily explained by any simple model of the tectonic loading cycle as due to the regional effect of the stress-drop of the previous principal earthquake. The other types of quiescence require significant modification to any such simple model. Of the possibilities considered, only two seem viable in predicting the observed phenomena, dilatancy hardening and slip weakening. Intermediate-term quiescences typically occur over a region equal to or several times the size of the rupture zone of the later earthquake and exhibit a relationship between the quiescence duration and size of the earthquake: they thus involve regional hardening or stress relaxation and agree with the predictions of the dilatancy-diffusion theory. Short-term quiescences, on the other hand, are more likely explained by fault zone dilatancy hardening and/or slip weakening within a small nucleation zone. Because seismicity is a locally relaxing process, seismicity should follow a behaviour known in rock mechanics as the Kaiser effect, in which only a very slight increase in strength, due to dilatancy hardening or decrease in stress due to slip weakening, is required to cause quiescence. This is in contrast to other precursory phenomena predicted by dilatancy, which require large dilatant strains and complete dilatancy hardening.

Key words

Earthquake prediction earthquake mechanism dilatancy 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher H. Scholz
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Geological SciencesColumbia UniversityPalisades

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