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Seismicity of Ireland, and why it is so low: How the thickness of the lithosphere controls intraplate seismicity

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Grannell, J 
Bonadio, R 
Agostinetti, NP 


jats:titleSUMMARY</jats:title> jats:pIreland and neighbouring Britain share much of their tectonic history and are both far from active plate boundaries at present. Their seismicity shows surprising lateral variations, with very few earthquakes in Ireland but many low-to-moderate ones in the adjacent western Britain. Understanding the cause of these variations is important for our understanding of the basic mechanisms of the intraplate seismicity distributions and for regional hazard assessment. The distribution of microseismicity within Ireland and its underlying causes have been uncertain due to the sparsity of the data sampling of the island, until recently. Here, we use the data from numerous recently deployed seismic stations in Ireland and map its seismicity in greater detail than previously. The majority of detectable seismic events are quarry and mine blasts. These can be discriminated from tectonic events using a combination of the waveform data, event origin times, and the epicentres’ proximity to quarries and mines, catalogued or identified from the satellite imagery. Our new map of natural seismicity shows many more events than known previously but confirms that the earthquakes are concentrated primarily in the northernmost part of the island, with fewer events along its southern coast and very few deeper inland. Comparing the seismicity with the recently published surface wave tomography of Ireland and Britain, we observe a strong correspondence between seismicity and the phase velocities at periods sampling the lithospheric thickness. Ireland has relatively thick, cold and, by inference, mechanically strong lithosphere and has very few earthquakes. Most Irish earthquakes are in the north of the island, the one place where its lithosphere is thinner, warmer and, thus, weaker. Western Britain also has relatively thin lithosphere and numerous earthquakes. By contrast, southeastern England and, probably, eastern Scotland have thicker lithosphere and, also, few earthquakes. The distribution of earthquakes in Ireland and Britain is, thus, controlled primarily by the thickness and mechanical strength of the lithosphere. The thicker, colder, stronger lithosphere undergoes less deformation and features fewer earthquakes than thinner, weaker lithosphere that deforms more easily. Ireland and Britain are tectonically stable and the variations in the lithospheric thickness variations across them are estimated to be in a 75–110 km range. Our results thus indicate that moderate variations in the lithospheric thickness within stable continental interiors can exert substantial control on the distributions of seismicity and seismic hazard—in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere around the world.</jats:p>



Europe, Seismicity and tectonics, Seismic tomography, Surface waves and free oscillations, Dynamics of lithosphere and mantle, Intra-plate processes

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Geophysical Journal International

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Oxford University Press (OUP)