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The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989 - Geologic setting and crustal structure

October 1, 2004

Although some scientists considered the Ms=7.1 Loma Prieta, Calif., earthquake of 1989 to be an anticipated event, some aspects of the earthquake were surprising. It occurred 17 km beneath the Santa Cruz Mountains along a left-stepping restraining bend in the San Andreas fault system. Rupture on the southwest-dipping fault plane consisted of subequal amounts of right-lateral and reverse motion but did not reach the surface. In the area of maximum uplift, severe shaking and numerous ground cracks occurred along Summit Road and Skyland Ridge, several kilometers south of the main trace of the San Andreas fault. The relatively deep focus of the earthquake, the distribution of ground failure, the absence of throughgoing surface rupture on the San Andreas fault, and the large component of uplift raised several questions about the relation of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake to the San Andreas fault: Did the earthquake actually occur on the San Andreas fault? Where exactly is the San Andreas fault in the heavily forested Santa Cruz Mountains, and how does the fault relate to ground ruptures that occurred there in 1989 and 1906? What is the geometry of the San Andreas fault system at depth, and how does it relate to the major crustal blocks identified by geologic mapping?

Subsequent geophysical and geologic investigations of crustal structure in the Loma Prieta region have addressed these and other questions about the relation of the earthquake to geologic structures observed in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. The diverse papers in this chapter cover several topics: geologic mapping of the region, potential- field and electromagnetic modeling of crustal structure, and the velocity structure of the crust and mantle in and below the source region for the earthquake. Although these papers were mostly completed between 1992 and 1997, they provide critical documentation of the crustal structure of the Loma Prieta region. Together, they present a remarkably coherent, three-dimensional picture of the earthquake source region--a geologically complex volume of crust with a long history of both right-lateral faulting and fault-normal compression, thrusting, and uplift.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989 - Geologic setting and crustal structure
DOI 10.3133/pp1550E
Authors Ray E. Wells
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1550
Index ID pp1550E
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Hazards Program; Earthquake Science Center