Recent megathrust events in Tohoku (Japan), Maule (Chile), and Sumatra (Indonesia) were well recorded. Much has been learned about the dominant physical processes in megathrust zones: (partial) locking of the plate interface, detailed coseismic slip, relocking, afterslip, viscoelastic mantle relaxation, and interseismic loading. These and older observations show complex spatial and temporal patterns in crustal deformation and displacement, and significant differences among different margins. A key question is whether these differences reflect variations in the underlying processes, like differences in locking, or the margin geometry, or whether they are a consequence of the stage in the earthquake cycle of the margin. Quantitative models can connect these plate boundary processes to surficial and far-field observations. We use relatively simple, cyclic geodynamic models to isolate the first-order geodetic signature of the megathrust cycle. Coseismic and subsequent slip on the subduction interface is dynamically (and consistently) driven. A review of global preseismic, coseismic, and postseismic geodetic observations, and of their fit to the model predictions, indicates that similar physical processes are active at different margins. Most of the observed variability between the individual margins appears to be controlled by their different stages in the earthquake cycle. The modeling results also provide a possible explanation for observations of tensile faulting aftershocks and tensile cracking of the overriding plate, which are puzzling in the context of convergence/compression. From the inversion of our synthetic GNSS velocities we find that geodetic observations may incorrectly suggest weak locking of some margins, for example, the west Aleutian margin.
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