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Fault locking, block rotation and crustal deformation in the Pacific Northwest

January 1, 2007

We interpret Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements in the northwestern United States and adjacent parts of western Canada to describe relative motions of crustal blocks, locking on faults and permanent deformation associated with convergence between the Juan de Fuca and North American plates. To estimate angular velocities of the oceanic Juan de Fuca and Explorer plates and several continental crustal blocks, we invert the GPS velocities together with seafloor spreading rates, earthquake slip vector azimuths and fault slip azimuths and rates. We also determine the degree to which faults are either creeping aseismically or, alternatively, locked on the block-bounding faults. The Cascadia subduction thrust is locked mainly offshore, except in central Oregon, where locking extends inland. Most of Oregon and southwest Washington rotate clockwise relative to North America at rates of 0.4–1.0 ° Myr−1. No shear or extension along the Cascades volcanic arc has occurred at the mm/yr level during the past decade, suggesting that the shear deformation extending northward from the Walker Lane and eastern California shear zone south of Oregon is largely accommodated by block rotation in Oregon. The general agreement of vertical axis rotation rates derived from GPS velocities with those estimated from palaeomagnetic declination anomalies suggests that the rotations have been relatively steady for 10–15 Ma. Additional permanent dextral shear is indicated within the Oregon Coast Range near the coast. Block rotations in the Pacific Northwest do not result in net westward flux of crustal material—the crust is simply spinning and not escaping. On Vancouver Island, where the convergence obliquity is less than in Oregon and Washington, the contractional strain at the coast is more aligned with Juan de Fuca—North America motion. GPS velocities are fit significantly better when Vancouver Island and the southern Coast Mountains move relative to North America in a block-like fashion. The relative motions of the Oregon, western Washington and Vancouver Island crustal blocks indicate that the rate of permanent shortening, the type that causes upper plate earthquakes, across the Puget Sound region is 4.4 ± 0.3 mm yr−1. This shortening is likely distributed over several faults but GPS data alone cannot determine the partitioning of slip on them. The transition from predominantly shear deformation within the continent south of the Mendocino Triple Junction to predominantly block rotations north of it is similar to changes in tectonic style at other transitions from shear to subduction. This similarity suggests that crustal block rotations are enhanced in the vicinity of subduction zones possibly due to lower resisting stress.

Publication Year 2007
Title Fault locking, block rotation and crustal deformation in the Pacific Northwest
DOI 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2007.03371.x
Authors Robert McCaffrey, Anthony I. Qamar, Robert W. King, Ray E. Wells, G. Khazaradze, C.A. Williams, C.W. Stevens, J.J. Vollick, P.C. Zwick
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Journal International
Index ID 70029869
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center