On the use of dislocations to model interseismic strain and stress build-up at intracontinental thrust faults

J. Vergne, R. Cattin, J. P. Avouac

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63 Citations (Scopus)


Creeping dislocations in an elastic half-space are commonly used to model interseismic deformation at subduction zones, and might also apply to major intracontinental thrust faults such as the Main Himalayan Thrust. Here, we compare such models with a more realistic 2-D finite element model that accounts for the mechanical layering of the continental lithosphere and surface processes, and that was found to fit all available constraints on interseismic and long-term surface displacements. These can also be fitted satisfactorily from dislocation models. The conventional back-slip model, commonly used for subduction zones, may, however, lead to a biased inference about the geometry of the locked portion of the thrust fault. We therefore favour the use of a creeping buried dislocation that simulates the ductile shear zone in the lower crust. A limitation of dislocation models is that the mechanical response of the lithosphere to the growth of the topography by bending of the elastic cores and ductile flow in the lower crust cannot be easily introduced. Fortunately these effects can be neglected because we may assume, to first order, a stationary topography. Moreover, we show that not only can dislocation models be used to adjust surface displacements but, with some caution, they can also provide a physically sound rationale to interpret interseismic microseismicity in terms of stress variations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-162
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Nov 2001


  • Continental deformation
  • Dislocation
  • Flexure of the lithosphere
  • Seismotectonics


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