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Stafford fault system: 120 million year fault movement history of northern Virginia

December 11, 2014

The Stafford fault system, located in the mid-Atlantic coastal plain of the eastern United States, provides the most complete record of fault movement during the past ~120 m.y. across the Virginia, Washington, District of Columbia (D.C.), and Maryland region, including displacement of Pleistocene terrace gravels. The Stafford fault system is close to and aligned with the Piedmont Spotsylvania and Long Branch fault zones. The dominant southwest-northeast trend of strong shaking from the 23 August 2011, moment magnitude Mw 5.8 Mineral, Virginia, earthquake is consistent with the connectivity of these faults, as seismic energy appears to have traveled along the documented and proposed extensions of the Stafford fault system into the Washington, D.C., area. Some other faults documented in the nearby coastal plain are clearly rooted in crystalline basement faults, especially along terrane boundaries. These coastal plain faults are commonly assumed to have undergone relatively uniform movement through time, with average slip rates from 0.3 to 1.5 m/m.y. However, there were higher rates during the Paleocene–early Eocene and the Pliocene (4.4–27.4 m/m.y), suggesting that slip occurred primarily during large earthquakes. Further investigation of the Stafford fault system is needed to understand potential earthquake hazards for the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., area. The combined Stafford fault system and aligned Piedmont faults are ~180 km long, so if the combined fault system ruptured in a single event, it would result in a significantly larger magnitude earthquake than the Mineral earthquake. Many structures most strongly affected during the Mineral earthquake are along or near the Stafford fault system and its proposed northeastward extension.

Publication Year 2015
Title Stafford fault system: 120 million year fault movement history of northern Virginia
DOI 10.1130/2015.2509(23)
Authors David S. Powars, Rufus D. Catchings, J. Wright Horton, J. Stephen Schindler, Milan J. Pavich
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title GSA Special Papers
Index ID 70188502
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center