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Subduction zones, one of the three types of plate boundaries, return the Earth's surface to its deep interior. Because subduction zones are gently inclined at shallow depths and depress the earth's temperature gradient, they have the largest seismogenic area of any plate boundary. Consequently, subduction zones generate the Earth's largest earthquakes and most destructive tsunamis. As tragically demonstrated by the Sumatra earthquake and tsunami of December 2004, these events often impact densely populated coastal areas and cause large numbers of fatalities.
While scientists have a general understanding of the seismogenic zone, many critical details remain obscure. This volume attempts to answer some of these fundamental concerns, including why some interplate subduction earthquakes are relatively modest in rupture length (100 km) while others rupture along 1000 km or more; why certain subduction zones are fully locked, accumulating elastic strain at essentially the full plate convergence rate, while others appear to be only partially coupled or even freely slipping; whether these locking patterns persist through the seismic cycle; and what is the role of sediments and fluids on the incoming plate. Experts in a variety of fields review the most current research and suggest further areas of exploration. They consider the composition of incoming plates, laboratory studies concerning sediment evolution during subduction and fault frictional properties, seismic and geodetic studies, and regional scale deformation.