Modelling the seismic potential of the Indo-Burman megathrust

The Indo-Burman arc is the boundary between the India and Burma plates, north of the Sumatra–Andaman subduction zone. The existence of active subduction in the Indo-Burman arc is a debatable issue because the Indian plate converges very obliquely beneath the Burma plate. Recent GPS measurements in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and northeast India indicate 13–17 mm/y of plate convergence along a shallow dipping megathrust while most of the strike-slip motion occurs on several steep faults, consistent with patterns of strain partitioning at subduction zones.

A short period of instrumentally recorded seismicity and sparse historical records are insufficient to assess the possibility of great earthquakes at the Indo-Burman megathrust.

Using the advantage of the Block-and-Fault Dynamics model allowing simultaneous simulation of slow tectonic motions and earthquakes, we test the hypothesis whether the India-Burma detachment is locked and able to produce great earthquakes, or it slips aseismically? We have shown that the model of locked detachment is preferred because it more adequately reproduces observed tectonic velocities. The integral characteristics of synthetic seismicity, the earthquake size distribution, and the rate of seismic activity are consistent with those derived from observations. Our results suggest that the megathrust is locked and can generate great M8+ earthquakes. The estimated average return period of great events exceeds one thousand years. Earthquakes of this size pose a great threat to NE India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the most densely populated areas of the world.

Source: Vorobieva, I., Gorshkov, A. & Mandal, P. Modelling the seismic potential of the Indo-Burman megathrust. Sci Rep 11, 21200 (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-00586-y