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Normal-faulting slip maxima and stress-drop variability: A geological perspective

January 1, 2010

We present an empirical estimate of maximum slip in continental normal-faulting earthquakes and present evidence that stress drop in intraplate extensional environments is dependent on fault maturity. A survey of reported slip in historical earthquakes globally and in latest Quaternary paleoearthquakes in the Western Cordillera of the United States indicates maximum vertical displacements as large as 6–6.5 m. A difference in the ratio of maximum-to-mean displacements between data sets of prehistoric and historical earthquakes, together with constraints on bias in estimates of mean paleodisplacement, suggest that applying a correction factor of 1.4±0.3 to the largest observed displacement along a paleorupture may provide a reasonable estimate of the maximum displacement. Adjusting the largest paleodisplacements in our regional data set (∼6 m) by a factor of 1.4 yields a possible upper-bound vertical displacement for the Western Cordillera of about 8.4 m, although a smaller correction factor may be more appropriate for the longest ruptures. Because maximum slip is highly localized along strike, if such large displacements occur, they are extremely rare.

Static stress drop in surface-rupturing earthquakes in the Western Cordillera, as represented by maximum reported displacement as a fraction of modeled rupture length, appears to be larger on normal faults with low cumulative geologic displacement (<2 km) and larger in regions such as the Rocky Mountains, where immature, low-throw faults are concentrated. This conclusion is consistent with a growing recognition that structural development influences stress drop and indicates that this influence is significant enough to be evident among faults within a single intraplate environment.