Interseismic Coupling in the Central Nepalese Himalaya: Spatial Correlation with the 2015 Mw 7.9 Gorkha Earthquake

  • Shuiping LiEmail author
  • Qi Wang
  • Gang ChenEmail author
  • Ping He
  • Kaihua Ding
  • Yunguo Chen
  • Rong Zou


Geodetic measurements conducted in the Himalaya over the last two decades have shown that the shallow portion of the main himalayan thrust (MHT) was entirely locked during the interseismic period. The induced elastic strain accumulated on the MHT beneath the Lesser Himalaya was not released until the 2015 Gorkha Mw 7.9 earthquake, which ruptured the north edge of the locked portion of the MHT. We utilized our own Global Positioning System (GPS) data from southern Tibet, combined with published geodetic velocities, to quantify the spatial variations of the coupling that prevailed before the Gorkha earthquake. The refined coupling model shows that the MHT was strongly locked (coupling > 0.5) in the uppermost 15 km of crust, corresponding to a downdip width of ~ 100 km. This model suggests a sharp transition zone of strain accumulation, with a rapid decrease in the coupling coefficient from 1.0 to less than 0.2 along ~ 50 km of the MHT, coinciding with the locations of microseismicity. We also determined slip models for the 2015 Gorkha earthquake and its Mw 7.3 aftershock, considering the ramp–flat–ramp–flat structure of the MHT. We found that ~ 85% of the total moment released by the Gorkha earthquake was concentrated on the partially coupled transition portion of the MHT, indicating that the earthquake mainly ruptured the brittle/ductile transition zone. The coseismic Coulomb failure stress increased along the southern and western parts adjacent to the rupture zone, pushing these two regions closer to failure. The moment deficits that have accumulated in these regions could trigger Mw 8.0 and Mw 8.3 earthquakes, respectively.


GPS convergence rate interseismic coupling 2015 Gorkha earthquake brittle/ductile transition zone 



We acknowledge the Crustal Movement Observation Network of China (CMONOC) for providing us with the GPS data in southern Tibet. We thank the editor Carla F. Braitenberg and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive and helpful comments, which greatly helped in improving our manuscript. This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41674015, 41731071, 41574012, 41674017, 41274037, 41541030), China postdoctoral science foundation (2016M592408), the Fundamental Research Funds for National Universities (CUG160225), Hubei Subsurface Multi-scale Imaging Key Laboratory (SMIL-2017-02) in China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, and Key Laboratory of Geospace Environment and Geodesy, Ministry of Education, Wuhan University (16-01-06). The figures are plotted using the Generic Mapping Tool (GMT) software.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1737 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hubei Subsurface Multi-scale Imaging Key Laboratory, Institute of Geophysics and GeomaticsChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  2. 2.College of Marine Science and TechnologyChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  3. 3.Faculty of Information EngineeringChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina

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