Tectonic setting of the recent damaging seismic series in the Southeastern Betic Cordillera, Spain

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In this work we analyze the tectonic setting of the recent damaging seismic series occurred in the Internal Zones of the eastern Betic Cordillera (SE Spain) and surrounding areas, the tectonic region where took place the 11th May 2011 Mw 5.2 Lorca earthquake. We revisit and make a synthesis of the seven largest and damaging seismic series occurred from 1984 to 2011. We analyze their seismotectonic setting, and their geological sources under the light of recent advances in the knowledge on active faults, neotectonics, seismotectonics and stress regime, with special attention focused on the Lorca Earthquake. These seismic series are characterized by two types of focal mechanisms, produced mainly by two sets of active faults, NNW–SSE to NNE–SSW small (no larger than 20–30 km) extensional faults with some strike slip component, and E–W to NE–SW large strike slip faults (more than 50 km long) with some compressional component (oblique slip faults). The normal fault earthquakes related to the smaller faults are dominant in the interior of large crustal tectonic blocks that are bounded by the large E–W to NE–SW strike-slip faults. The strike slip earthquakes are associated to the reactivation of segments or intersegment regions of the large E–W to NE–SW faults bounding those crustal tectonic blocks. Most of the seismic series studied in this work can be interpreted as part of the background seismicity that occurs within the crustal blocks that are strained under a transpressional regime driven by the major strike slip shear corridors bounding the blocks. The seismotectonic analysis and the phenomenology of the studied series indicate that it is usual the occurrence of damaging compound earthquakes of M ∼ 5.0 associated with triggering processes driven by coseismic stress transfer. These processes mainly occur in the seismic series generated by NNW–SSE to NNE–SSW faults. These mechanical interaction processes may induce a higher frequency of occurrence of this kind of earthquakes than considered in traditional probabilistic seismic hazard assessments and it should be taken into account in future seismic hazard assessments.