Persistent fine-scale fault structure and rupture development: A new twist in the Parkfield, California, story


We investigate the fine-scale geometry and structure of the San Andreas Fault near Parkfield, CA, and their role in the development of the 1966 and 2004 ∼M6 earthquakes. Long-term surface fault traces indicate that structural heterogeneities associated with secondary reverse and normal fault structures are present at both rupture tips, near Middle Mountain and Gold Hill. Detailed analysis of almost 50 years of high-resolution seismicity reveals a fault plane that has been twisted into a helicoid between Middle Mountain and Gold Hill. Numerical models support our conclusion that this shape is the result of long-term torqueing of a strong stuck patch surrounded by a weak creeping region. The changes in fault friction behavior and related geometric discontinuities act as barriers to rupture propagation of moderate size earthquakes at Parkfield, and as areas of concentrations where rupture initiates. Our study demonstrates also that smooth strike-slip faults with large cumulative offset can form new fault segments at a late stage in their evolution.

Publication Title

Earth and Planetary Science Letters