JOURNAL GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF INDIA

Vol.83, May 2014, pp.493-500
0016-7622/2014-83-5-493/$ 1.00 © GEOL. SOC. INDIA
Genesis of a New Slab Tear Fault in the Indo-Australian Plate,
Offshore Northern Sumatra, Indian Ocean
BASAB MUKHOPADHYAY* and SUJIT DASGUPTA
#
*Geological Survey of India, 27 J. L. Nehru Road, Kolkata – 700016
#
Ex. Geological Survey of India, 27 J. L. Nehru Road, Kolkata - 700016
Email: basabmukhopadhyay@yahoo.com
Abstract: Following the December 2004 and March 2005 major shallow foci inter-plate earthquakes in the north Sumatra
region, a slab-tear fault located within the subducting Indian plate ruptured across the West Sunda Trench (WST) within
the marginal intra-plate region. Trend, length and movement pattern of this New Tear Fault (NTF) segment is almost
identical to another such slab-tear fault mapped previously by Hamilton (1979), located around 160 km south of NTF.
Seismic activity along the NTF remained quasi-stable till the end of the year 2011, when an earthquake of magnitude 7.2
occurred on 10.01.2012 just at the tip of NTF, only around ~ 100 km within the intra-plate domain west of WST. The
NTF rupture propagated further towards SSW with the generation of two more large earthquakes on 11.04.2012. The
foreshock (10.01.12; M7.2) – mainshock (11.04.12; M 8.6) – aftershock (11.04.12; M 8.2) sequence along with numerous
smaller magnitude aftershocks unmistakably define the extension of NTF, a slab-tear fault that results tectonic segmentation
of the convergent plate margin. Within the intra-plate domain most earthquakes display consistent left-lateral strike slip
mechanism along NNE trending fault plane.
Keywords: Slab-tear fault; New tear fault (NTF), Rupture, Intra-plate Oceanic environment, Northern Sumatra, 2012
Sumatra Earthquake (M 8.6), 2004 Great Sumatra Earthquake (M 9.2).
INTRODUCTION
Subducting lithospheric slab at convergent margins are
often characterised by tear faults resulting into segmentation
of the inclined Benioff zone. Variation in the velocity of
subduction rollback along the length of the subduction
system is considered prime force responsible for formation
of slab tear faults (Govers and Wortel, 2005). The
differential rollback velocities within different segments
of Benioff zone are accommodated by horizontal motion
near the top part of the descending slab that yields to
develop tear faults. Slab tearing is thus responsible for the
development of segmented lithospheric structural units.
Examples of such slab breaking faults include among others;
Hunter fracture zone in New Hebrides Arc (Schellart et al.,
2002) from North Fiji basin; Palu fault at the edges of the
Calabrian, Caribbean and Scotia arcs (Govers and Wortel,
2005) on the island of Sulawesi; Tyrrhenian Sea and the
Apennine belt in Italy (Rosenbaum et al., 2008; Gasparon
et al., 2009). From the 3500 km long Burmese-Andaman-
Sumatra subduction slab between north Sumatra and north
Burma, Dasgupta et al. (2003) and later Mukhopadhyay et
al. (2009) have mapped several extensive ‘hinge’ or ‘tear’
faults that abut at high angles to the N-S trending arc. It
was also demonstrated that these sub-vertical tear faults
are seismically active and display conspicuous left lateral
strike slip movement at shallow crustal level of the Benioff
zone. Such slab tear faults are, however, not restricted to
tearing only the inclined portion of down-going lithosphere,
but often traverses across the trench within the proximal
‘intra-plate’ oceanic domain. The Wecoma fault, a left-
lateral strike slip active fault traverses the floor of the
Cascadia basin, seaward of the Oregon convergent margin
(Appelgate et al., 1992) is an example. Hamilton (1979)
from the oceanic domain of the West Sunda Trench (WST)
mapped a NNE trending left lateral strike slip fault. This
fault (referred as Hamilton fault, HF in Fig.1) is seismically
active and display left lateral motion (Dasgupta and
Mukhopadhyay, 1993). Subsequent studies demonstrate
that slab tear fault (see Figure 4 of Dasgupta et al., 2003)
cut across the trench and join HF. Similar tear fault cutting
across the trench has also been mapped from Great Nicobar
region.
In the northern Sumatra, the convergent plate boundary
is highly active with occurrence of shallow focus thrust
JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.83, MAY2014
494 BASAB MUKHOPADHYAY AND SUJIT DASGUPTA
earthquakes having tsunamogenic potentiality: 2.11.2002
(M 7.2; h 31 km), 26.12.2004 (M 9.2; h 26 km) and
28.03.2005 (M 8.7; h 30 km). On the contrary, the proximal
intra-plate Indo-Australian plate beyond the arc trench zone
in northern Sumatra is charaterised by sparse seismicity
(Figs. 2 and 3), even till the end of 2011. The scenario
changed by the occurrences of three large strike-slip intra-
plate earthquake of 11th April 2012 (M 8.6 and 8.2) with
a pre-shock on 10.01.2012 (M 7.2). These earthquakes
(M 8.6 and M 8.2) are the largest intra-plate strike-slip
earthquakes (McGuire and Beroza, 2012) recorded till date.
The 11th April 2012 earthquake with its pre-shock and
aftershocks occur along a NNE-SSW trending linear seismic
zone (Fig.1) that makes acute angle to Ninety East Ridge
(NER) and disposed perpendicular to West Sunda Trench
(WST), similar to the HF.
In this note, we study the seismotectonics of the region
through three temporal domains: 1964 to 24.12.2004, i.e.,
pre-2004 mega earthquake of 26 December; 26.12.2004 to
31.12.2011; and 01.01.2012 to 24.11.2012, i.e., the period
in which the marginal intra-plate domain behaved super-
active; and argue to bring to focus that a new NNE trending
and ~ 400 km long fault has freshly ruptured the marginal
intra-plate region; propagated from NNE (from the top part
of the subducting lithosphere) to SSW and is essentially a
continuation of slab-tear fault that segments the descending
slab.
EARTHQUAKE DATA
In order to summarise present day seismotectonics of
offshore northern Sumatra in light of the newly active NNE-
SSW trending linear seismic zone, earthquake catalogue
(source: ISC and NEIC- USGS) from 1964 to 2012 with a
cutoff magnitude of 5.0 and CMT double couple fault plane
solution data (source: http://www.seismology.harvard.edu)
from 1977 to 2012 for the present study area (Longitude
87°E – 98°E and Latitude –4°S – +7°N) are compiled. A
total of 890 earthquake events covering a rather wide range
of magnitude (5.0 to 9.2) with focal depths extending to as
deep as 250+ km are plotted (Figure 1) with suitable
symbols (combination of magnitude and focal depths) over
a tectonic map draped on bathymetric image after Smith
and Sandwell (1997).
SPATIO-TEMPORAL SEISMICITY PATTERN
AND SEISMOTECTONICS
Spatial Analysis of Earthquakes
Spatially, majority of the earthquakes in this zone are
product of strain built up and release along coupled
convergent plate boundary to the east of WST, where
earthquakes are originating from both subducting Indo-
Australian plate and overriding Sunda plate (Fig.1). In this
tectonic domain, the Benioff zone, West Sunda Trench
(WST), West Andaman fault (WAF) and Sumatra fault
System (SFS) are important seismogenic tectonic
planes. Three important shallow focus Benioff zone earth-
quakes (Figure 1) with tsunamogenic potentiality occurred
along the Benioff zone are 2.11.2002 (M 7.2; h 31 km),
26.12.2004 (M 9.2; h 26 km) and 28.03.2005 (M 8.7;
h 30 km).

Fig.1. Seismicity map offshore Northern Sumatra region with
earthquake epicentre (data period: 1964-2012) plotted over
bathymetric image (data after Smith and Sandwell, 1997).
Major tectonic features depicted include the West Sunda
Trench (WST); West Andaman Fault (WAF); Sumatra
Fault System (SFS); five numbers slab-tear faults [see text
for ref] transverse to WST and the left lateral Hamilton
Fault (HF) [named after Hamilton, 1979]. Note the NNE-
SSW trending seismic zone well within the Indo-
Australian plate making low angle to Ninety East Ridge
(NER) and almost perpendicular to WST; this higher
marginal intraplate seismicity manifested only during early
2012 (compare Figures 2 and 3) after the large events that
struck on 10.01.2012 (M 7.2, h 19 km) and two
earthquakes of 11th April 2012 (M 8.6; h 23 km) followed
by M 8.2 (h 16 km). Also note the three nearby convergent
plate margin major thrust earthquakes of 02.11.2002 (M
7.2; h 31 km), 26.12.2004 (M 9.2; h 26 km) and
28.03.2005 (M 8.7; h 30 km). MR: Margui Ridge; WB
Wharton Basin.
JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.83, MAY2014
GENESIS OF A NEW SLAB TEAR FAULT IN THE INDO-AUSTRALIAN PLATE, INDIAN OCEAN 495
Another set of shallow foci earthquakes locate within
the marginal intraplate setting beyond the trench axis
towards west of WST; within this segment three well-
defined linear seismic zones (Fig.1) are noticed:
(i) earthquakes along NER, (ii) a NNE-SSW trending zone
in and around HF defining its activity and (iii) another well-
defined NNE-SSW zone placed in between (i) and (ii). This
last zone has produced three large intraplate strike-slip
earthquakes during early 2012 (Fig.1): 10.1.2012 (M 7.2),
11th April 2012 (8 hr: 38 mn: 37.3 sec; M 8.6; h 23 km)
Sumatra earthquake and the largest aftershock of M 8.2
(11.4.2012; 10 hr: 43mn: 9.4sec; h 16 km). These
earthquakes have been tagged as intraplate (within Indo-
Australian plate) seismicity and argued in favour of complex
rupture pattern (Meng et al., 2012; Duputel et al., 2012;
Satriano et al., 2012; Delescluse et al., 2012, Yue et al.,
2012 and Pollitz et al., 2012).
Temporal Analysis of Earthquakes
Prior to the great Sumatra earthquake of 2004 the region
under study displayed normal background seismicity (see
Fig.2a) both along the inclined subducting plate and the
horizontal plate segment to the west of WST. Post 2004,
shallow part of the Benioff zone became super-active
(see Fig.3a) along with moderate increase of seismicity to
the immediate west of WST; and finally in post 2011 the
focus of seismicity shifted to the marginal horizontal
segment of the lithosphere (see Fig.4a). Seismotectonic
analyses for these three periods are as follows:
1964 - 24.12.2004
This temporal domain indicates the prevailing tectonic
scenario and also delineates the seismically active fault
planes prior to the occurrence of 26.12.2004 Great Sumatra
Earthquake (M 9.2). Within this period, there are 298
earthquakes (magnitude range from 5.0 to 7.2), mostly
deeper in-slab events and occurrence of a large thrust
earthquake on 2.11.2002 (M 7.2; h 31 km) along the plate
interface (Fig.2a). The other significant observation is
activity along the NNE trending HF, seaward of WST
(Hamilton, 1979; Dasgupta and Mukhopadhyay, 1993) and
its continuation within the inclined lithosphere as slab-tear
fault (see Dasgupta et al., 2003). CMT solutions (Fig.2b)
indicate left-lateral shear along this fault that clearly
traverses from the inclined slab to the horizontal segment
of the Indo-Australian plate across the WST.
26.12.2004 – 31.12.2011
The temporal domain is characterised by the occurrence
of two shallow foci thrust earthquakes; 26.12.2004 Great
Sumatra Earthquake (M 9.2) and 28.03.2005 (M 8.7) Nias
Island earthquake in the plate coupled margin (Fig.3a). This
period is marked by 491 earthquakes with magnitude
ranging from 5.0 to 9.2, mostly generated from shallower

Fig.2. (a) Seismicity map with earthquake data for the period 1964 - 24.12.2004. Note the fault (Hamilton fault: HF; Hamilton 1979)
marked in black line that traverses in continuation of slab tear fault (white straight line) in the subduction zone. (b) Plot of strike
slip (CMT) earthquake epicenter for the period 1977 – 24.12.2004 with beachball diagrams showing left-lateral strike-slip
solutions along HF and its continuation within the inter-plate domain. Reference and other abbreviations are as per Fig.1.
JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.83, MAY2014
496 BASAB MUKHOPADHYAY AND SUJIT DASGUPTA
segment of the subduction front. Other important feature is
the development of a new tear fault (NTF) segment (~ 130
km) across WST in continuation of a slab-tear fault
(Mukhopadhyay et al, 2009). NTF (Figure 3a) is delineated
from seismicity pattern and its kinematics inferred from
CMT solutions. The entire fault segment across WST shows
consistent left lateral strike slip motion (Figure 3b). It is
worth noticing that this new fault segment is placed
~160 km due northwest and parallel to Hamilton fault (HF).
It is, therefore, prognosticated that the slab tear fault created
after the differential stress distribution caused by the 2004
and 2005 Sumatra and Nias earthquakes has been activated
and extended to create the fresh rupture, NTF.
1.1.2012 – 24.11.2012
This temporal domain marks the preshock-mainshock-
aftershock sequences; pre-shock (10.1.2012; M 7.2), main
shock on 11th April 2012 (8 hr: 38 mn: 37.3 sec; M 8.6; h
23 km) followed by several aftershocks including the largest
aftershock of M 8.2 (11.4.2012; 10 hr: 43mn: 9.4sec; h 16
km). Within this period, there are 101 earthquakes with
magnitude range from 5.0 to 8.6 originated from crustal
depths. Disposition of earthquakes has reportedly formed
a complicated pattern with a dominant spread along NNE-
SSW (Figure 4a); CMT solutions indicate consistent left-

Fig.3. (a) Seismicity map with earthquake data for the period 26.12.2004 – 31.12.2011. Note the fresh rupture (NTF, New Tear fault)
marked in black line located 160 km towards north along the trench axis and parallel to HF. This fault (NTF) formed in
continuation of the slab tear fault (white line). (b) Plot of strike slip (CMT) earthquake epicenter for the period 26.12.2004 –
31.12.2011 with beachball diagram showing left- lateral strike-slip solutions along NTF and its continuation within the inter-
plate domain. Reference and other abbreviations are as per Fig.1.
lateral strike slip faulting along the NNE nodal plane for
all three large earthquakes and also moderate aftershocks
(Figure 4b).
We argue that the slab tear fault in the convergent plate
interface has continued in the intraplate zone and generated
a fresh 300 km rupture as NTF. It is also interesting to note
that the 10.1.2012 (M 7.2) and the main shock (M 8.6)
occur at the southwestern tip of the post 2005 NTF (see
previous analysis in section 3.2.2 and Figure 3a, b). This
also indicates stress accumulation and release at the tip of
the propagating rupture / fault for subsequent failure deep
inside the Indo-Australian plate. Global CMT indicates
overall shallow plunging compressional axis along NW-
SE and tensional axis is also shallow plunging along NNE–
SSW direction. It is remarkable to state that CMT of the
2004 M 9.2 Sumatra earthquake in the Benioff zone shows
NE-SW compression parallel to the extensional direction
of the strike slip earthquakes described above. Extensional
earthquakes in the aftermath of reverse faulting events are
not unprecedented (see McGuire and Beroza (2012) for
more explanation).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
We infer that the earthquake of 11th April 2012 (M 8.6)
JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.83, MAY2014
GENESIS OF A NEW SLAB TEAR FAULT IN THE INDO-AUSTRALIAN PLATE, INDIAN OCEAN 497
has occurred in the Indo-Australian plate due to tearing of
it along a NNE-SSW trending freshly ruptured zone (NTF),
an extension of slab tear fault from subduction interface in
response to the differential shear stress generated in the
lithospheric plate by the far-field plate motion.
Detailed inferences vis a vis the evidence drawn through
the current study in the line described above are enumerated
below:
— From seismic, gravity data, earthquake focal mechan-
ism (Subrahmanyam et al., 2008) and deep penetration
seismic reflection surveys (Maurin and Rangin, 2009)
it is understood that the northern tip of NER collides
with the Indo-Burmese arc between latitude 18
o
N and
19
o
N. The differential stress generated due to very slow
subduction of extremely rigid ridge (NER) with denser
material along 18
o
-19
o
N latitude and a relatively faster
subduction of Indo-Australian plate along 0
o
N latitude,
produces a strike slip motion inside the Indo-
Australian plate. The GPS data (Simons et al., 2007)
corroborate this view; 47 – 55 mm/yr slow movement
along NER and relatively faster movement of ~ 63mm/
yr further east (Wharton basin) below Sumatra along
100
o
E longitude (Fig.5). This differential motion in
adjacent parts of the Indo-Australian plate has resulted
into extreme torsion deep inside the plate, which is

Fig.4. (a) Seismicity map with earthquake data for the period 1.1.2012 – 24.11.2012. Note the fresh rupture (NTF) extended towards
SW and forms a seismic zone trending NNE-SSW that generated shallow foci M 7.2 earthquake on 10.1.2012 at the tip of the
rupture followed by 11th April 2012 Sumatra (M 8.6) earthquake and its largest aftershock of M 8.2 on the same day. The slab
tear fault extends as NTF beyond the trench zone. Reference and other abbreviations are as per Fig.1. (b) CMT solution of
earthquakes along NTF show left- lateral strike slip motion along NNE-SSW fault plane.
reflected predominantly by left lateral strike slip
motion on near vertical rupture planes (HF and NTF)
and also by tear faults imaged by us in previous studies
(Dasgupta et al, 2003; Mukhopadhyay et al., 2009).
— The convergence between Indo-Australian and SE
Asian plate / Sunda plate is accommodated by the
Burma-Andaman-Sumatra-Java subduction system
(Curray et al., 1979; Sieh et al., 1991; Sieh and
Natawidjaja, 2000; Vigny et al., 2003; Simoes et al.,
2004; Socquet et al., 2006; Simons et al., 2007; Stork
et al., 2008). The oblique subduction along this belt
generates 20 – 50 m of trench-parallel displacement
that could have been accumulated since the last
megathrust earthquake of 2004, only part of which has
been taken up by the Sumatra Fault System (Ishii et
al., 2013). This also suggests that the remaining trench-
parallel motion was released during the magnitude 8.6
earthquake on 11 April 2012 within the subducting
plate (see Ishii et al., 2013 for details). In our opinion,
the residual trench parallel motion coupled with the
normal stress distribution caused by the 2004
megathrust event has generated the rupture, NTF, in
continuation of the tear fault. The tear fault (as imaged
by Mukhopadhyay et al., 2009) in continuation of
rupture zone (NTF) within subduction domain has
JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.83, MAY2014
498 BASAB MUKHOPADHYAY AND SUJIT DASGUPTA
been marked elsewhere as a sharp tectonic boundary
(Engdahl et al., 2007) or by a NNE–SSW ridge (Franke
et al., 2008). Observing the seismicity pattern in this
zone which increases after 2004, it is a possibility that
the tear fault system have been reactivated by normal
stress variation during 26 December 2004 Sumatra
Earthquake and producing a fresh rupture zone (NTF)
to accomplish the recent seismicity. In general, tear
faults in the subducting lithosphere were generated due
to the differential plate motion in different part of the
arc segment as stated above and subduction rollback
that occur time to time in the evolutionary history of
the Sumatra arc system. A schematic three-dimensional
cartoon (Fig.6) is drawn to illustrate the structure of
under-thrusted Indo-Australian plate vis-à-vis the
position of tear faults and its continuation as fresh
rupture zones (HF and NTF).
— Engdahl et al. (2007) have also indicated clear
evidence of increase of strike slip faulting in the outer-
rise and near-trench zone following the 2004 and 2005
earthquake. Further, the Coulomb stress change
calculations (Delescluse et al., 2012) on 11th April
2012 Sumatra (M 8.6) earthquake shows that the co-
seismic slips of the Sumatra and Nias island
earthquakes have promoted oceanic left-lateral strike-
slip earthquakes on pre-existing meridian-aligned fault
planes. The faults (HF, NTF and tear faults) marked
by this study bear the signature. It is to be mentioned
here that HF, NTF and corresponding tear fault imaged
by us are also being subducted below the Sumatra
today and getting activated periodically to produce
profuse seismicity to form the NNE-SSW trending
linear seismic zones.
It is prudent at this juncture to summarise that like the
scenario described above, similar seismotectonic scenario
and existence of fresh rupture defined by small magnitude
Fig.5. Average GPS derived motions (mm/yr) in the Burma-
Andaman-Sumatra sector with Regional Tectonic Framework
(after Mitchell, 1985; Dasgupta and Nandy, 1995). Arrows with
filled heads represent relative motion between Indo-Australia and
Sunda plates. Single headed arrow represents strike-slip motion
along Sagaing and Sumatra dextral fault system. References:
& Simons et al. (2007), * Sieh et al. (1991), ^ Socquet et al.
(2006), # Curray et al. (1979), @ Vigny et al. (2003). Note the
presence of tear faults from subduction regime cutting across the
Indo-Australian plate in three occasions (refer text for more
inferences). An: Andaman Island, Ni: Nicobar Island, Ch :
Cheduba Island, o: Mogok Belt, +: Paleogene tin-granite belt, -
: sedimentary province, HF Hamilton Fault, ET: Eastern Trough,
WT: Western Trough, WST : West Sunda trench, IBR: Indo
Burma Ranges, KF: Khlong Marui Fault, KI: Kra Isthmus, SF:
Sagaing Fault.

Fig.6. A simplified and schematic three-dimensional cartoon to
illustrate the structure of under-thrusted Indo-Australian plate
vis-à-vis position of fresh ruptures (HF and NTF) in intraplate
zone and its continuation as slab tear faults in the subduction
regime.
JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.83, MAY2014
GENESIS OF A NEW SLAB TEAR FAULT IN THE INDO-AUSTRALIAN PLATE, INDIAN OCEAN 499
earthquakes with left lateral strike slip movement in
continuation of slab tear faults are present in other two
places along the Andaman –Sumatra subduction interface.
These are: (i) along 6
o
N latitude below Nicobar Island and
(ii) along 18
o
N latitude below Cheduba Island (see Figure
5 for location). Association of large earthquake within these
rupture zones is hitherto unknown, but occurrence of large
one in future with pure strike-slip movement and size
comparable to Sumatra Earthquake (M 8.6) cannot be
altogether ruled out. Thus, with caution, these places
need proper surveillances to receive prior intimation
before any such menace.
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(Received:24 April 2013; Revised form accepted: 15 May 2013)

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