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Nat Commun. 2019 Sep 2;10(1):3482. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11064-5.

Earthquake crisis unveils the growth of an incipient continental fault system.

Author information

Barcelona-CSI, Institut de Ciències del Mar, ICM-CSIC, 08003, Barcelona, Spain.
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, 24148, Kiel, Germany.
Barcelona-CSI, Institut de Ciències del Mar, ICM-CSIC, 08003, Barcelona, Spain.
GRD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography - UCSD, CA92093, La Jolla, San Diego, USA.
Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG), University College of Dublin, School of Earth Sciences, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera, ICTJA-CSIC, 08028, Barcelona, Spain.
Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, UMR7154 CNRS, 75005, Paris, France.
National Oceanography Centre, Waterfront Campus, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK.
Unitat de Tecnologia Marina, UTM-CSIC, 08003, Barcelona, Spain.
Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ Paris 06, CNRS - ISTEP, 75252, Paris, France.
Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA), 08010, Barcelona, Spain.


Large continental faults extend for thousands of kilometres to form boundaries between rigid tectonic blocks. These faults are associated with prominent topographic features and can produce large earthquakes. Here we show the first evidence of a major tectonic structure in its initial-stage, the Al-Idrissi Fault System (AIFS), in the Alboran Sea. Combining bathymetric and seismic reflection data, together with seismological analyses of the 2016 Mw 6.4 earthquake offshore Morocco - the largest event ever recorded in the area - we unveil a 3D geometry for the AIFS. We report evidence of left-lateral strike-slip displacement, characterise the fault segmentation and demonstrate that AIFS is the source of the 2016 events. The occurrence of the Mw 6.4 earthquake together with historical and instrumental events supports that the AIFS is currently growing through propagation and linkage of its segments. Thus, the AIFS provides a unique model of the inception and growth of a young plate boundary fault system.

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