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Interseismic strain accumulation and the earthquake potential on the southern San Andreas fault system

Abstract

The San Andreas fault in California is a mature continental transform fault that accommodates a significant fraction of motion between the North American and Pacific plates. The two most recent great earthquakes on this fault ruptured its northern and central sections in 1906 and 1857, respectively. The southern section of the fault, however, has not produced a great earthquake in historic times ( for at least 250 years). Assuming the average slip rate of a few centimetres per year, typical of the rest of the San Andreas fault, the minimum amount of slip deficit accrued on the southern section is of the order of 7 - 10 metres, comparable to the maximum co-seismic offset ever documented on the fault(1,2). Here I present high-resolution measurements of interseismic deformation across the southern San Andreas fault system using a well-populated catalogue of space-borne synthetic aperture radar data. The data reveal a nearly equal partitioning of deformation between the southern San Andreas and San Jacinto faults, with a pronounced asymmetry in strain accumulation with respect to the geologically mapped fault traces. The observed strain rates confirm that the southern section of the San Andreas fault may be approaching the end of the interseismic phase of the earthquake cycle.

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