Stress triggering in thrust and subduction earthquakes and stress interaction between the southern San Andreas and nearby thrust and strike-slip faults Academic Article uri icon


  • We argue that key features of thrust earthquake triggering, inhibition, and clustering can be explained by Coulomb stress changes, which we illustrate by a suite of representative models and by detailed examples. Whereas slip on surface-cutting thrust faults drops the stress in most of the adjacent crust, slip on blind thrust faults increases the stress on some nearby zones, particularly above the source fault. Blind thrusts can thus trigger slip on secondary faults at shallow depth and typically produce broadly distributed aftershocks. Short thrust ruptures are particularly efficient at triggering earthquakes of similar size on adjacent thrust faults. We calculate that during a progressive thrust sequence in central California the 1983 Mw = 6.7 Coalinga earthquake brought the subsequent 1983 Mw = 6.0 Nuñez and 1985 Mw = 6.0 Kettleman Hills ruptures 10 bars and 1 bar closer to Coulomb failure. The idealized stress change calculations also reconcile the distribution of seismicity accompanying large subduction events, in agreement with findings of prior investigations. Subduction zone ruptures are calculated to promote normal faulting events in the outer rise and to promote thrust-faulting events on the periphery of the seismic rupture and its downdip extension. These features are evident in aftershocks of the 1957 Mw = 9.1 Aleutian and other large subduction earthquakes. We further examine stress changes on the rupture surface imparted by the 1960 Mw = 9.5 and 1995 Mw = 8.1 Chile earthquakes, for which detailed slip models are available. Calculated Coulomb stress increases of 2–20 bars correspond closely to sites of aftershocks and postseismic slip, whereas aftershocks are absent where the stress drops by more than 10 bars. We also argue that slip on major strike-slip systems modulates the stress acting on nearby thrust and strike-slip faults. We calculate that the 1857 Mw = 7.9 Fort Tejon earthquake on the San Andreas fault and subsequent interseismic slip brought the Coalinga fault ~1 bar closer to failure but inhibited failure elsewhere on the Coast Ranges thrust faults. The 1857 earthquake also promoted failure on the White Wolf reverse fault by 8 bars, which ruptured in the 1952 Mw = 7.3 Kern County shock but inhibited slip on the left-lateral Garlock fault, which has not ruptured since 1857. We thus contend that stress transfer exerts a control on the seismicity of thrust faults across a broad spectrum of spatial and temporal scales.

publication date

  • February 2004