Mild Displacements of Boulders during the 2019 Ridgecrest Earthquakes

Norman H. Sleep, & Susan E. Hough

Published May 19, 2020, SCEC Contribution #10060

Strong seismic waves from the July 2019 Ridgecrest, California, earthquakes displaced rocks in proximity to the M 7.1 mainshock fault trace at several locations. In this report we document large boulders that were displaced at the Wagon Wheel Staging Area (WWSA, approximately 4.5 km southeast of the southern terminus of the large M6.4 foreshock rupture (hereafter “the large foreshock”) and 9 km southwest of the nearest approach of the M7.1 mainshock surface rupture. Some boulders appear to have slid along essentially flat surfaces, which suggests that dynamic stresses overcame the coefficient of friction. Other boulders appear to have rocked within their sockets. In both cases, we use simple mechanical models to estimate total peak dynamic accelerations between 0.5 and 1 g, commensurate with modified Mercalli intensity 9. It is unclear if the strongest shaking at this location occurred during the large foreshock or the M7.1 mainshock. The inferred accelerations are higher than predicted mainshock ground motions at WWSA, although local high accelerations could have been generated by path, site, or source effects. Gaps between boulders and their sockets are easily visible in the immediate aftermath of earthquakes and provide a quick indication of strong shaking. More importantly, the gaps quickly fill with surficial organic debris, including seeds and leaves of the year, that quickly become entombed. Boulders may thus potentially be extracted to examine gap fillings associated with past earthquakes, providing a new datable paleoseismic method.

Key Words
Ridgecrest earthquakes; strong ground motions; fragile geological features; paleoseismology

Sleep, N. H., & Hough, S. E. (2020). Mild Displacements of Boulders during the 2019 Ridgecrest Earthquakes. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America,. doi: 10.1785/0120200029.

Related Projects & Working Groups
GMP, Earthquake Geology