Slab morphology in the Cascadia fore arc and its relation to episodic tremor and slip


Episodic tremor and slip (ETS) events in subduction zones occur in the general vicinity of the plate boundary, downdip of the locked zone. In developing an understanding of the ETS phenomenon it is important to relate the spatial occurrence of nonvolcanic tremor to the principal structural elements within the subduction complex. In Cascadia, active and passive source seismic data image a highly reflective, dipping, low‐velocity zone (LVZ) beneath the fore‐arc crust; however, its continuity along the margin is not established with certainty, and its interpretation is debated. In this work we have assembled a large teleseismic body wave data set comprising stations from northern California to northern Vancouver Island. Using stacked receiver functions we demonstrate that the LVZ is well developed along the entire margin from the coast eastward to the fore‐arc basins (Georgia Strait, Puget Sound, and Willamette Valley). Combined with observations and predictions of intraslab seismicity, seismic velocity structure, and tremor hypocenters, our results support the thesis that the LVZ represents the signature of subducted oceanic crust, consistent with thermal‐petrological modeling of subduction zone metamorphism. The location of tremor epicenters along the revised slab contours indicates their occurrence close to but seaward of the wedge corner. Based on evidence for high pore fluid pressure within the oceanic crust and a downdip transition in permeability of the plate interface, we propose a conceptual model for the generation of ETS where the occurrence and recurrence of propagating slow slip and low‐frequency tremor are explained by episodic pore fluid pressure buildup and fluid release into or across the plate boundary.

Journal of Geophysical Research