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The Origin of High-angle Dip-slip Earthquakes at Geothermal Fields in California

Martin Schoenball, Patricia Martínez-Garzón, Andrew J. Barbour, & Grzegorz Kwiatek

Published August 23, 2016, SCEC Contribution #6515, 2016 SCEC Annual Meeting Poster #183

We examine the source mechanisms of earthquakes occurring in three California geothermal fields: The Geysers, Salton Sea, and Coso. We find source mechanisms ranging from strike slip faulting, consistent with the tectonic settings, to dip slip with unusually steep dip angles which are inconsistent with local structures. For example, we identify a fault zone in the Salton Sea Geothermal Field imaged using precisely-relocated hypocenters with a dip angle of ~60° yet double-couple focal mechanisms indicate higher-angle dip-slip on ≥75° dipping planes. We observe considerable temporal variability in the distribution of source mechanisms. For example, at the Salton Sea we find that the number of high angle dip-slip events increased after 1989, when net-extraction rates were highest. There is a concurrent decline in strike-slip and strike-slip-normal faulting, the mechanisms expected from regional tectonics. These unusual focal mechanisms and their spatio-temporal patterns are enigmatic in terms of our understanding of faulting in geothermal regions. While near-vertical fault planes are expected to slip in a strike-slip sense, and dip slip is expected to occur on moderately dipping faults, we observe dip slip on near-vertical fault planes. However, for plausible stress states and accounting for geothermal production, the resolved fault planes should be stable.
We systematically analyze the source mechanisms of these earthquakes using full moment tensor inversion to understand the constraints imposed by assuming a double-couple source. Applied to The Geysers field, we find a significant reduction in the number of high-angle dip-slip mechanisms using the full moment tensor. The remaining mechanisms displaying high-angle dip-slip could be consistent with faults accommodating subsidence and compaction associated with volumetric strain changes in the geothermal reservoir.

Schoenball, M., Martínez-Garzón, P., Barbour, A. J., & Kwiatek, G. (2016, 08). The Origin of High-angle Dip-slip Earthquakes at Geothermal Fields in California. Poster Presentation at 2016 SCEC Annual Meeting.

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