Last night, while I was preparing an online exam for my students to take while I am at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Denver Colorado, there were a couple earthquakes in the Gorda plate offshore of northern California.
Here are the USGS web pages for the earthquakes plotted in my interpretive poster below. The two from last night are in the Gorda plate and there is also a recent earthquake associated with the Mendocino fault. Here is my report for the M 5.6 Mendocino fault earthquake.
- 2019.09.25 M 5.0 Gorda plate
- 2019.09.25 M 4.6 Gorda plate
- 2016.09.03 M 5.6 Mendocino fault
Below is my interpretive poster for this earthquake. I include faults from the USGS quaternary fault and fold database. The two earthquakes do not appear to be along the same fault plane, if my interpretation is correct. This leads me to think that perhaps these earthquakes are possibly on faults antithetic to the regional structural grain.
I placed a moment tensor / focal mechanism legend on the poster. There is more material from the USGS web sites about moment tensors and focal mechanisms (the beach ball symbols). Both moment tensors and focal mechanisms are solutions to seismologic data that reveal two possible interpretations for fault orientation and sense of motion. One must use other information, like the regional tectonics, to interpret which of the two possibilities is more likely. Given our knowledge of the tectonics of this region, I interpret this earthquake to be a left-lateral strike-slip earthquake in the Gorda plate. I include some figures below that show evidence that supports this interpretation.
Here is a map of the Cascadia subduction zone, modified from Nelson et al. (2006). The Juan de Fuca and Gorda plates subduct norteastwardly beneath the North America plate at rates ranging from 29- to 45-mm/yr. Sites where evidence of past earthquakes (paleoseismology) are denoted by white dots. Where there is also evidence for past CSZ tsunami, there are black dots. These paleoseismology sites are labeled (e.g. Humboldt Bay). Some submarine paleoseismology core sites are also shown as grey dots. The two main spreading ridges are not labeled, but the northern one is the Juan de Fuca ridge (where oceanic crust is formed for the Juan de Fuca plate) and the southern one is the Gorda rise (where the oceanic crust is formed for the Gorda plate).
Here is a version of the CSZ cross section alone (Plafker, 1972). This shows two parts of the earthquake cycle: the interseismic part (between earthquakes) and the coseismic part (during earthquakes). Regions that experience uplift during the interseismic period tend to experience subsidence during the coseismic period.
Here is a map from Chaytor et al. (2004) that shows some details of the faulting in the region. The moment tensor (at the moment i write this) shows a north-south striking fault with a reverse or thrust faulting mechanism. While this region of faulting is dominated by strike slip faults (and most all prior earthquake moment tensors showed strike slip earthquakes), when strike slip faults bend, they can create compression (transpression) and extension (transtension). This transpressive or transtentional deformation may produce thrust/reverse earthquakes or normal fault earthquakes, respectively. The transverse ranges north of Los Angeles are an example of uplift/transpression due to the bend in the San Andreas fault in that region.
These are the models for tectonic deformation within the Gorda plate as presented by Jason Chaytor in 2004.
Here is a map from Rollins and Stein, showing their interpretations of different historic earthquakes in the region. This was published in response to the Januray 2010 Gorda plate earthquake. The faults are from Chaytor et al. (2004).
In this map below, I label a number of other significant earthquakes in this Mendocino triple junction region. Another historic right-lateral earthquake on the Mendocino fault system was in 1994. There was a series of earthquakes possibly along the easternmost section of the Mendocino fault system in late January 2015, here is my post about that earthquake series.
The Gorda and Juan de Fuca plates subduct beneath the North America plate to form the Cascadia subduction zone fault system. In 1992 there was a swarm of earthquakes with the magnitude Mw 7.2 Mainshock on 4/25. Initially this earthquake was interpreted to have been on the Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ). The moment tensor shows a compressional mechanism. However the two largest aftershocks on 4/26/1992 (Mw 6.5 and Mw 6.7), had strike-slip moment tensors. These two aftershocks align on what may be the eastern extension of the Mendocino fault.
There have been several series of intra-plate earthquakes in the Gorda plate. Two main shocks that I plot of this type of earthquake are the 1980 (Mw 7.2) and 2005 (Mw 7.2) earthquakes. I place orange lines approximately where the faults are that ruptured in 1980 and 2005. These are also plotted in the Rollins and Stein (2010) figure above. The Gorda plate is being deformed due to compression between the Pacific plate to the south and the Juan de Fuca plate to the north. Due to this north-south compression, the plate is deforming internally so that normal faults that formed at the spreading center (the Gorda Rise) are reactivated as left-lateral strike-slip faults. In 2014, there was another swarm of left-lateral earthquakes in the Gorda plate. I posted some material about the Gorda plate setting on this page.
There are three types of earthquakes, strike-slip, compressional (reverse or thrust, depending upon the dip of the fault), and extensional (normal). Here is are some animations of these three types of earthquake faults. Many of the earthquakes people are familiar with in the Mendocino triple junction region are either compressional or strike slip. The following three animations are from IRIS.
- Cascadia’s 315th Anniversary 2015.01.26
- Earthquake Information about the CSZ 2015.10.08
- 2016.01.30 M 5.0 Gorda plate
- 2015.12.29 M 4.9 Gorda plate
- 2015.11.18 M 3.2 Gorda plate
- 2014.03.13 M 5.2 Gorda Rise
- 2014.03.09 M 6.8 Gorda plate p-1
- 2014.03.23 M 6.8 Gorda plate p-2
- 2015.06.01 M 5.8 Blanco fracture zone p-1
- 2015.06.01 M 5.8 Blanco fracture zone p-2 (animations)
- 2016.01.02 M 4.5 Mendocino fault
- 2015.11.01 M 4.3 Mendocino fault
- 2015.01.28 M 5.7 Mendocino fault
- 2016.01.07 M 4.2 NAP(?)
- 2015.10.29 M 3.4 Bayside
- 2016.03.19 M 5.2 Explorer plate
Cascadia subduction zone
Blanco fracture zone
North America plate
- Atwater, B.F., Musumi-Rokkaku, S., Satake, K., Tsuju, Y., Eueda, K., and Yamaguchi, D.K., 2005. The Orphan Tsunami of 1700—Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America, USGS Professional Paper 1707, USGS, Reston, VA, 144 pp.
- Burgette, R. et al., 2009. Interseismic uplift rates for western Oregon and along-strike variation in locking on the Cascadia subduction zone in Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 114, B01408, doi:10.1029/2008JB005679
- Chaytor, J.D., Goldfinger, C., Dziak, R.P., and Fox, C.G., 2004. Active deformation of the Gorda plate: Constraining deformation models with new geophysical data: Geology v. 32, p. 353-356
- Goldfinger, C., Nelson, C.H., Morey, A., Johnson, J.E., Gutierrez-Pastor, J., Eriksson, A.T., Karabanov, E., Patton, J., Gràcia, E., Enkin, R., Dallimore, A., Dunhill, G., and Vallier, T., 2012. Turbidite Event History: Methods and Implications for Holocene Paleoseismicity of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, USGS Professional Paper # 1661F. U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA, 184 pp.
- McCrory, P. A., Blair, J. L., Oppenheimer, D. H., and Walter, S. R., 2006. Depth to the Juan de Fuca slab beneath the Cascadia subduction margin; a 3-D model for sorting earthquakes U. S. Geological Survey
- Nelson, A.R., Kelsey, H.M., and Witter, R.C., 2006. Great earthquakes of variable magnitude at the Cascadia subduction zone: Quaternary Research, doi:10.1016/j.yqres.2006.02.009, p. 354-365.
- Plafker, G., 1972. Alaskan earthquake of 1964 and Chilean earthquake of 1960: Implications for arc tectonics in Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 77, p. 901-925.
- Rollins, J.C., Stein, R.S., 2010. Coulomb Stress Interactions Among M ≥ 5.9 Earthquakes in the Gorda Deformation Zone and on the Mendocino Fault Zone, Cascadia Subduction Zone, and Northern San Andreas Fault. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, 19 pp.
- USGS Quaternary Fault Database: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/hazards/qfaults/
- Wang, K., Wells, R., Mazzotti, S., Hyndman, R. D., and Sagiya, T., 2003. A revised dislocation model of interseismic deformation of the Cascadia subduction zone Journal of Geophysical Research, B, Solid Earth and Planets v. 108, no. 1.