Unraveling the complex deformation pattern at Yellowstone plateau through seismicity and fracture analysis

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


The intense unrest of the Yellowstone volcanic plateau is manifested through diffuse seismic activity, earthquake swarms, and episodes of complex surficial deformation that have been related to magmatic fluid transfer in the upper crust over the past several decades. While past studies have focused on modeling contemporary geophysical data, there has not been a fully-integrated evaluation of seismicity, fault kinematics, and stress field. Here we analyze a catalog of 10,201 relocated earthquakes recorded between 2010 and 2016 and determine 224 well-constrained double-couple focal mechanisms. The majority of the focal mechanisms (65%) are associated with the 2010 Madison Plateau seismic swarm. The focal mechanisms are predominantly strike-slip with subordinate normal faulting mechanisms. Possible causes of this predominance and of the concurrence of both kinematics are here discussed, in order to unravel the influence of magmatic processes such as past sill intrusions. The earthquake catalog has been analyzed in terms of location, time, and kinematics according to the phases of surficial deformation documented by GPS data in order to identify systematic patterns of deformation and has been compared to the 1988–2009 seismicity. The continuous downwarping of the overburden from 2010 to 2016 was accomodated by structural adjustment of the shallow crust through strike-slip motions on a multitude of scattered small fault planes. Furthermore, the predominance of strike-slip faulting during seismic swarms occurs when the fluid overpressure induces horizontal propagation of vertical fractures with strike-slip motions, followed by horizontal fluid flow.

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