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Retardations in fault creep rates before local moderate earthquakes along the San Andreas fault system, central California

January 1, 1988

Records of shallow aseismic slip (fault creep) obtained along parts of the San Andreas and Calaveras faults in central California demonstrate that significant changes in creep rates often have been associated with local moderate earthquakes. An immediate postearthquake increase followed by gradual, long-term decay back to a previous background rate is generally the most obvious earthquake effect on fault creep. This phenomenon, identified as aseismic afterslip, usually is characterized by above-average creep rates for several months to a few years. In several cases, minor step-like movements, called coseismic slip events, have occurred at or near the times of mainshocks. One extreme case of coseismic slip, recorded at Cienega Winery on the San Andreas fault 17.5 km southeast of San Juan Bautista, consisted of 11 mm of sudden displacement coincident with earthquakes of ML=5.3 and ML=5.2 that occurred 2.5 minutes apart on 9 April 1961. At least one of these shocks originated on the main fault beneath the winery. Creep activity subsequently stopped at the winery for 19 months, then gradually returned to a nearly steady rate slightly below the previous long-term average. The phenomena mentioned above can be explained in terms of simple models consisting of relatively weak material along shallow reaches of the fault responding to changes in load imposed by sudden slip within the underlying seismogenic zone. In addition to coseismic slip and afterslip phenomena, however, pre-earthquake retardations in creep rates also have been observed. Onsets of significant, persistent decreases in creep rates have occurred at several sites 12 months or more before the times of moderate earthquakes. A 44-month retardation before the 1979 ML=5.9 Coyote Lake earthquake on the Calaveras fault was recorded at the Shore Road creepmeter site 10 km northwest of Hollister. Creep retardation on the San Andreas fault near San Juan Bautista has been evident in records from one creepmeter site for the past 5 years. Retardations with durations of 21 and 19 months also occurred at Shore Road before the 1974 and 1984 earthquakes of ML=5.2 and ML=6.2, respectively. Although creep retardation remains poorly understood, several possible explanations have been discussed previously. (1) Certain onsets of apparent creep retardation may be explained as abrupt terminations of afterslip generated from previous moderate-mainshock sequences. (2) Retardations may be related to significant decreases in the rate of seismic and/or aseismic slip occurring within or beneath the underlying seismogenic zone. Such decreases may be caused by changes in local conditions related to growth of asperities, strain hardening, or dilatancy, or perhaps by passage of stress-waves or other fluctuations in driving stresses. (3) Finally, creep rates may be lowered (or increased) by stresses imposed on the fault by seismic or aseismic slip on neighboring faults. In addition to causing creep-rate increases or retardations, such fault interactions occasionally may trigger earthquakes. Regardless of the actual mechanisms involved and the current lack of understanding of creep retardation, it appears that shallow fault creep is sensitive to local and regional effects that promote or accompany intermediate-term preparation stages leading to moderate earthquakes. A strategy for more complete monitoring of fault creep, wherever it is known to occur, therefore should be assigned a higher priority in our continuing efforts to test various hypotheses concerning the mechanical relations between seismic and aseismic slip. ?? 1988 Birkha??user Verlag.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1988
Title Retardations in fault creep rates before local moderate earthquakes along the San Andreas fault system, central California
DOI 10.1007/BF00879008
Authors R.O. Burford
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Pure and Applied Geophysics PAGEOPH
Index ID 70014341
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse