Detecting Significant Stress Drop Variations in Large Micro-Earthquake Datasets: A Comparison Between a Convergent Step-Over in the San Andreas Fault and the Ventura Thrust Fault System, Southern California


A key parameter in engineering seismology and earthquake physics is seismic stress drop, which describes the relative amount of high-frequency energy radiation at the source. To identify regions with potentially significant stress drop variations, we perform a comparative analysis of source parameters in the greater San Gorgonio Pass (SGP) and Ventura basin (VB) in southern California. The identification of physical stress drop variations is complicated by large data scatter as a result of attenuation, limited recording bandwidth and imprecise modeling assumptions. In light of the inherently high uncertainties in single stress drop measurements, we follow the strategy of stacking large numbers of source spectra thereby enhancing the resolution of our method. We analyze more than 6000 high-quality waveforms between 2000 and 2014, and compute seismic moments, corner frequencies and stress drops. Significant variations in stress drop estimates exist within the SGP area. Moreover, the SGP also exhibits systematically higher stress drops than VB and shows more scatter. We demonstrate that the higher scatter in SGP is not a generic artifact of our method but an expression of differences in underlying source processes. Our results suggest that higher differential stresses, which can be deduced from larger focal depth and more thrust faulting, may only be of secondary importance for stress drop variations. Instead, the general degree of stress field heterogeneity and strain localization may influence stress drops more strongly, so that more localized faulting and homogeneous stress fields favor lower stress drops. In addition, higher loading rates, for example, across the VB potentially result in stress drop reduction whereas slow loading rates on local fault segments within the SGP region result in anomalously high stress drop estimates. Our results show that crustal and fault properties systematically influence earthquake stress drops of small and large events and should be considered for seismic hazard assessment.

Publication Title

Pure and Applied Geophysics