Deformation associated with sliver transport in Costa Rica: Seismic and geodetic observations of the July 2016 Bijagua earthquake sequence

Maria C. Araya, Juliet Biggs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
117 Downloads (Pure)


Tectonic slivers form in the overriding plate in regions of oblique subduction. The inner boundaries of the sliver are often poorly defined and can consist of well-defined faults, rotating blocks or diffuse fault systems, which pass through or near the volcanic arc. The Guanacaste Volcanic Arc Sliver (GVAS) as defined by Montero et al. (2017), is a segment of the Central American Forearc Sliver, whose inner boundary is the ∼87 km long Haciendas-Chiripa Fault System (HCFS), which is located ∼10 km behind the volcanic arc and consists of strike slip faults and pull apart steps. We characterise the current ground motion on this boundary by combining earthquake locations and focal mechanisms of the 2016 Bijagua earthquake sequence, with the surface ground deformation obtained from Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) images from the ALOS-2 satellite. The coseismic stack of interferograms show ∼6 cm of displacement towards the line of sight of the satellite between the Caño Negro fault and the Upala fault, indicating uplift or SE horizontal surface displacement. The largest recorded earthquake of the sequence was Mw 5.4, and the observed deformation is one of the smallest earthquakes yet detected by InSAR in the Central American region. Forward and inverse models show the surface deformation can be partially explained by slip on a single fault, but it can be better explained by slip along two faults linked at depth. The best-fit model consists of 0.33 m of right lateral slip on the Caño Negro fault and 0.35 m of reverse slip on the Upala fault, forming a positive flower structure. As no reverse seismicity was recorded, we infer the slip on the Upala fault occurred aseismically. Observations of the Bijagua earthquake sequence suggests the forearc sliver boundary is a complex and diffuse fault system. There are localised zones of transpression and trantenssion and areas where there is no surface expression suggesting the fault system is not yet mature. Although aseismic slip is common on subduction interfaces and mature strike-slip faults, this is the first study to document aseismic slip on a continental tectonic sliver boundary fault.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberggz474
Pages (from-to)585-597
Number of pages13
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
Early online date21 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Radar interferometry
  • Continental margins: convergent
  • Dynamics: seismotectonics
  • Continental tectonics: strike-slip


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