A deep earthquake on the eastern margin of the Australian plate

Recently, we recorded seismic waves on our station AUCK from an Earthquake roughly 11 degrees to our North. This event is characterized by a strong P- and S-wave arrival as you can see in this figure:


Given the usual limitations of our (vertical) sensor when it comes to S-wave recordings, this is indicative of a very deep earthquake. The USGS estimates that this earthquake happened at a depth of 460 km. Now, under most places on Earth the rocks at those depths are too ductile to support the brittle breaking necessary for an earthquake, but in this case, the earthquake happened in — or on the boundary of — the brittle Pacific Plate subducted under the Australian Plate. Note that the epicentre of this event is about 500 km from the surface expression of the boundary between these plates. From the depth of the event and the offset to the plate boundary at the surface, we can estimate the angle of subduction may be around 45 degrees.


The P- and S-wave markers are based on the average wave speed in the earth. In this case, they are a bit earlier than expected, because the subsurface between earthquake and the AUCK recording station is slower than average. As discussed previously, this is indicative of a young, warmer (and thus slower) lithosphere.

Furthermore, such deep earthquakes cause relatively little surface wave energy. The signal after the S-waves is likely a guided wave in the Pacific plate called a “leaky mode.” If you want to learn more about leaky modes in the Kermadecs, you should read this paper.