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Ambient tectonic stress as fragile geological feature

Norman H. Sleep

Published September 2014, SCEC Contribution #1966

Strong seismic waves produce frictional failure within shallow pervasively cracked rocks. Distributed failure preferentially relaxes ambient tectonic stresses, providing a fragility measure of past strong shaking. Relaxation of the regional fault-normal compression appears to have occurred within granite from 768 m down to ~1000–1600 m depth at the Pilot Hole near Parkfield, California. Subsequent movements on the main fault have imposed strike-slip stress within the relaxed region. Peak ground velocities of ~2 m s21 are inferred for infrequent (few 1000 yr recurrence) past earthquakes from stress relaxation within the granite and from the variation of S wave velocity with depth in the overlying sandstone. Conversely, frequent strong shaking in slowly deforming regions relaxes shallow ambient tectonic stress. This situation is expected beneath Whittier Narrows, where strong Love waves from numerous San Andreas events repeatedly produced nonlinear behavior.

Sleep, N. H. (2014). Ambient tectonic stress as fragile geological feature. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 15(9), 3628-3644. doi: 10.1002/2014GC005426.