#Earthquake Report: Gorda plate

Over the past night and morning, there was a sequence of earthquakes within the Gorda plate due west of Crescent City. Some people even felt these earthquakes, culminating (so far) with a M 5.6. There was a Gorda plate earthquake in March of this year, but it was in a different location.

These earthquakes did not occur along the Gorda Rise as some have reported, but within a region of oceanic crust over a million years old.

In the map below, I include a transparent overlay of the magnetic anomaly data from EMAG2 (Meyer et al., 2017). As oceanic crust is formed, it inherits the magnetic field at the time. At different points through time, the magnetic polarity (north vs. south) flips, the north pole becomes the south pole. These changes in polarity can be seen when measuring the magnetic field above oceanic plates. This is one of the fundamental evidences for plate spreading at oceanic spreading ridges (like the Gorda rise).

Regions with magnetic fields aligned like today’s magnetic polarity are colored red in the EMAG2 data, while reversed polarity regions are colored blue. Regions of intermediate magnetic field are colored light purple.

Note that along the Gorda rise, the magnetic anomaly is red, showing that the spreading ridge has a normal polarity, like that of today. Prior to about 780,000 years ago, the polarity was reversed. During the Bruhnes-Matuyama magnetic polarity reversal, the polarity flipped to the way it is today. Note how as one goes away from the Gorda rise (east or west), the magnetic anomaly changes color to blue. At the boundary between red and blue is the Bruhnes-Matuyama magnetic polarity reversal. The earthquakes from today occurred within this blue region, so the oceanic crust is older than about 780,000 years old, probably older than a million years old.

The structures in the Gorda plate in this region are largely inherited from the extensional tectonic and volcanic processes at the Gorda rise. However, the Gorda plate is being pulverized by the surrounding tectonic plates. There are several interpretations about how the plate is deforming and some debate about whether the Gorda plate is even behaving like a plate. These normal fault (extensional) structures have been reactivating as left-lateral strike-slip faults as a result of this deformation. This region is called the Mendocino deformation zone (a.k.a. the Triangle of Doom).

Below is my interpretive poster for this earthquake

I plot the seismicity from the past month, with color representing depth and diameter representing magnitude (see legend). I include earthquake epicenters from 1918-2018 with magnitudes M ≥ 5.0 in a second poster).

I plot the USGS fault plane solutions (moment tensors in blue and focal mechanisms in orange), in addition to some relevant historic earthquakes.

  • 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.
  • I include some inset figures.

  • In the upper right corner is a map of the Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ) and regional tectonic plate boundary faults. This is modified from several sources (Chaytor et al., 2004; Nelson et al., 2004). I placed a blue stars in the general location of today’s earthquakes.
  • In the upper left corner is a map from Chaytor et al. (2004) that shows some details of the faulting in the region. This figure shows the predominant tectonic fabric in the GP (northeast striking left-lateral faults). More about this figure can be found below.
  • In the lower right corner is a figure from Rollins and Stein (2010). In their paper they discuss how static coulomb stress changes from earthquakes may impart (or remove) stress from adjacent crust/faults. I place a blues star in the general location of today’s earthquakes.
  • In the lower left corner is a figure from Chaytor et al. (2004) that shows the different models for the internal deformation within the Gorda plate.

  • This version includes earthquakes M ≥ 5.0 from the USGS. Note how the region where today’s earthquakes happened is a region of higher levels of seismicity. Perhaps this is because this region is the locus of the deformation within the Mendocino deformation zone?

USGS Earthquake Pages

  • However, this region is typified by these normal (extensional earthquakes. Below are some of these.
  • 1985.07.23 M 5.3
  • 1990.01.05 M 5.4
  • 2013.12.01 M 5.5

Some Relevant Discussion and Figures

  • 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.

  • A: Mapped faults and fault-related ridges within Gorda plate based on basement structure and surface morphology, overlain on bathymetric contours (gray lines—250 m interval). Approximate boundaries of three structural segments are also shown. Black arrows indicated approximate location of possible northwest- trending large-scale folds. B, C: uninterpreted and interpreted enlargements of center of plate showing location of interpreted second-generation strike-slip faults and features that they appear to offset. OSC—overlapping spreading center.

  • These are the models for tectonic deformation within the Gorda plate as presented by Jason Chaytor in 2004.
  • Mw = 5 Trinidad Chaytor

    Models of brittle deformation for Gorda plate overlain on magnetic anomalies modified from Raff and Mason (1961). Models A–F were proposed prior to collection and analysis of full-plate multibeam data. Deformation model of Gulick et al. (2001) is included in model A. Model G represents modification of Stoddard’s (1987) flexural-slip model proposed in this paper.

  • 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).

  • Tectonic configuration of the Gorda deformation zone and locations and source models for 1976–2010 M ≥ 5.9 earthquakes. Letters designate chronological order of earthquakes (Table 1 and Appendix A). Plate motion vectors relative to the Pacific Plate (gray arrows in main diagram) are from Wilson [1989], with Cande and Kent’s [1995] timescale correction.

  • 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.

Cascadia subduction zone Earthquake Reports

General Overview

  • 1700.09.26 M 9.0 Cascadia’s 315th Anniversary 2015.01.26
  • 1700.09.26 M 9.0 Cascadia’s 316th Anniversary 2016.01.26 updated in 2017 and 2018
  • 1992.04.25 M 7.1 Cape Mendocino 25 year remembrance
  • 1992.04.25 M 7.1 Cape Mendocino 25 Year Remembrance Event Page
  • Earthquake Information about the CSZ 2015.10.08
  • Earthquake Reports

    Gorda plate

    Blanco fracture zone

    Mendocino fault

    Mendocino triple junction

    North America plate

    Explorer plate


    Geologic Fundamentals

    • For more on the graphical representation of moment tensors and focal mechnisms, check this IRIS video out:
    • Here is a fantastic infographic from Frisch et al. (2011). This figure shows some examples of earthquakes in different plate tectonic settings, and what their fault plane solutions are. There is a cross section showing these focal mechanisms for a thrust or reverse earthquake. The upper right corner includes my favorite figure of all time. This shows the first motion (up or down) for each of the four quadrants. This figure also shows how the amplitude of the seismic waves are greatest (generally) in the middle of the quadrant and decrease to zero at the nodal planes (the boundary of each quadrant).

    • 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. The following three animations are from IRIS.
    • Strike Slip:



    • This is an image from the USGS that shows how, when an oceanic plate moves over a hotspot, the volcanoes formed over the hotspot form a series of volcanoes that increase in age in the direction of plate motion. The presumption is that the hotspot is stable and stays in one location. Torsvik et al. (2017) use various methods to evaluate why this is a false presumption for the Hawaii Hotspot.

    • A cutaway view along the Hawaiian island chain showing the inferred mantle plume that has fed the Hawaiian hot spot on the overriding Pacific Plate. The geologic ages of the oldest volcano on each island (Ma = millions of years ago) are progressively older to the northwest, consistent with the hot spot model for the origin of the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamount Chain. (Modified from image of Joel E. Robinson, USGS, in “This Dynamic Planet” map of Simkin and others, 2006.)

    • Here is a map from Torsvik et al. (2017) that shows the age of volcanic rocks at different locations along the Hawaii-Emperor Seamount Chain.

    • Hawaiian-Emperor Chain. White dots are the locations of radiometrically dated seamounts, atolls and islands, based on compilations of Doubrovine et al. and O’Connor et al. Features encircled with larger white circles are discussed in the text and Fig. 2. Marine gravity anomaly map is from Sandwell and Smith.

    Social Media


    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Dengler, L.A., Moley, K.M., McPherson, R.C., Pasyanos, M., Dewey, J.W., and Murray, M., 1995. The September 1, 1994 Mendocino Fault Earthquake, California Geology, Marc/April 1995, p. 43-53.
    • Frisch, W., Meschede, M., Blakey, R., 2011. Plate Tectonics, Springer-Verlag, London, 213 pp.
    • Geist, E.L. and Andrews D.J., 2000. Slip rates on San Francisco Bay area faults from anelastic deformation of the continental lithosphere, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 105, no. B11, p. 25,543-25,552.
    • Irwin, W.P., 1990. Quaternary deformation, in Wallace, R.E. (ed.), 1990, The San Andreas Fault system, California: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1515, online at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1990/1515/
    • Lin, J., R. S. Stein, M. Meghraoui, S. Toda, A. Ayadi, C. Dorbath, and S. Belabbes (2011), Stress transfer among en echelon and opposing thrusts and tear faults: Triggering caused by the 2003 Mw = 6.9 Zemmouri, Algeria, earthquake, J. Geophys. Res., 116, B03305, doi:10.1029/2010JB007654.
    • McCrory, P.A.,. Blair, J.L., Waldhauser, F., kand Oppenheimer, D.H., 2012. Juan de Fuca slab geometry and its relation to Wadati-Benioff zone seismicity in JGR, v. 117, B09306, doi:10.1029/2012JB009407.
    • McLaughlin, R.J., Sarna-Wojcicki, A.M., Wagner, D.L., Fleck, R.J., Langenheim, V.E., Jachens, R.C., Clahan, K., and Allen, J.R., 2012. Evolution of the Rodgers Creek–Maacama right-lateral fault system and associated basins east of the northward-migrating Mendocino Triple Junction, northern California in Geosphere, v. 8, no. 2., p. 342-373.
    • Meyer, B., Saltus, R., Chulliat, a., 2017. EMAG2: Earth Magnetic Anomaly Grid (2-arc-minute resolution) Version 3. National Centers for Environmental Information, NOAA. Model. doi:10.7289/V5H70CVX
    • Nelson, A.R., Asquith, A.C., and Grant, W.C., 2004. Great Earthquakes and Tsunamis of the Past 2000 Years at the Salmon River Estuary, Central Oregon Coast, USA: Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. 94, No. 4, pp. 1276–1292
    • Rollins, J.C. and 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, v. 115, B12306, doi:10.1029/2009JB007117, 2010.
    • Stoffer, P.W., 2006, Where’s the San Andreas Fault? A guidebook to tracing the fault on public lands in the San Francisco Bay region: U.S. Geological Survey General Interest Publication 16, 123 p., online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/2006/16/
    • Yue, H., Zhang, Z., Chen, Y.J., 2008. Interaction between adjacent left-lateral strike-slip faults and thrust faults: the 1976 Songpan earthquake sequence in Chinese Science Bulletin, v. 53, no. 16, p. 2520-2526
    • Wallace, Robert E., ed., 1990, The San Andreas fault system, California: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1515, 283 p. [http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1988/1434/].
    Category(s): cascadia, earthquake, education, Extension, geology, gorda, pacific, plate tectonics

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