Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Influence of lithostatic stress on earthquake stress drops in North America

June 22, 2017

We estimate stress drops for earthquakes in and near the continental United States using the method of spectral ratios. The ratio of acceleration spectra between collocated earthquakes recorded at a given station removes the effects of path and recording site and yields source parameters including corner frequency for, and the ratio of seismic moment between, the two earthquakes. We determine stress drop from these parameters for 1121 earthquakes greater than M∼3 in 60 earthquake clusters. We find that the average Brune stress drop for the few eastern United States (EUS) tectonic mainshocks studied (2.6–36 MPa) is about three times greater than that of tectonic mainshocks in the western United States (WUS, 1.0–7.9 MPa) and five times greater than mainshocks potentially induced by wastewater injection in the central United States (CUS, 0.6–5.6 MPa). EUS events tend to be deeper thrusting events, whereas WUS events tend to be shallower but have a wide range of focal mechanisms. CUS events tend to be shallow with strike‐slip to normal‐faulting mechanisms. With the possible exception of CUS aftershocks, we find that differences in stress drop among all events can be taken into account, within one standard deviation of significance, by differences in the shear failure stress as outlined by Mohr–Coulomb theory. The shear failure stress is a function of vertical stress (or depth), the fault style (normal, strike slip, or reverse), and coefficient of friction (estimated here to be, on average, 0.64). After accounting for faulting style and depth dependence, we find that the average Brune stress drop is about 3% of the failure stress. These results suggest that high‐frequency shaking hazard (>∼1  Hz) from shallow induced events and aftershocks is reduced to some extent by lower stress drop. However, the shallow hypocenters will increase hazard within several kilometers of the source.

Publication Year 2017
Title Influence of lithostatic stress on earthquake stress drops in North America
DOI 10.1785/0120160219
Authors Oliver S. Boyd, Daniel E. McNamara, Stephen H. Hartzell, George Choy
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
Index ID 70188711
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center