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New constraints on the current stress field and seismic velocity structure of the eastern Yilgarn Craton from mechanisms of local earthquakes

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The Yilgarn Craton has hosted some of the largest earthquakes within the Australian continent in the last 100¬†years. Earthquakes have mainly been studied in the western part of the craton, and are thought to result from the reactivation of Precambrian structures in an E–W compressive regional stress field imposed by plate-scale processes. Here we present moment tensor solutions for three recent moderate-sized earthquakes around the town of Kalgoorlie that are inconsistent with E–W compression, but instead suggest E–W extension in the eastern Yilgarn Craton. Waveforms of earthquakes at Boulder (M W = 4.0, 20 April 2010), Kalgoorlie (M W = 4.3, 26 February 2014) and Coolgardie (M W = 3.9, 31 October 2014) were inverted for moment tensors. All three earthquakes were shallow (centroid depth ≤4 km) normal-faulting events that occurred along roughly N–S-striking planes, either with a steep westward or a relatively shallow eastward dip. The robustness of the retrieved mechanisms has been thoroughly tested, employing different earth models, assuming different locations for the earthquakes and using different period bands for the inversion. The fit of synthetic long-period waveforms to the observations was in all cases substantially improved by assuming a two-layered crust with high S wavespeeds (about 3.9–4 km/s) overlying substantially slower material. Since there is independent evidence from active source profiles for a P velocity increase between the upper and lower crust, a large difference in v p/v s ratio between upper and lower crust is the only way to explain both lines of evidence. This vertical contrast could represent a dominance of felsic material in the upper crust, and substantially more mafic material in the lower crust. Taken together, our results also appear to imply that the regional stress field is E–W extensive in the Kalgoorlie area, and possibly for the entire Kalgoorlie Terrane. This is contrary to current assumptions from continent-scale stress modelling. That the orientations of rupture planes roughly align with the regional structural grain could indicate that Archean structures are reactivated in response to the current stress field.
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Keywords: Western Australia; Yilgarn Craton; crustal structure; earthquake focal mechanism; local seismicity; stress field

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia 2: Geological Survey of Western Australia, Perth

Publication date: November 17, 2015

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