Earthquake Report: Mendocino fault

I was in Humboldt County last week for the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group meeting. I stayed there working on my house that a previous tenant had left in quite a destroyed state (they moved in as friends of mine).

As I was grabbing a bite at Taqueria Bravo in Willits, I checked in on social media and noticed my friend Dave Bazard had posted moments earlier about an earthquake there. I had missed it by about 2 hours or so.

Yesterday’s earthquake was a right-lateral strike-slip earthquake on the Mendocino fault system. The Mendocino fault is a strike-slip fault formed by the eastward motion of the Gorda plate relative to the westward motion of the Pacific plate. The last major damaging earthquake on the MF was in 1994.

Interestingly, this was the 6 year commemoration of the 2014 M 6.8 Gorda plate earthquake (the last large earthquake in the region).

Also, there was a similarly sized event on the MF in 2018.

    Big “take-aways” from this:

  • This earthquake did not affect the Cascadia megathrust subduction zone fault (too small of magnitude and too far away).
  • This earthquake did not generate an observable tsunami.
  • This earthquake changed the stress in the surrounding crust, but a very very small amount (in some places it increased stress on faults and in other places it decreased stresses on faults). However, the magnitude was small and this change in stress is probably short lived. I discuss this about a previous MF earthquake here. I spend more time on this topic for a Gorda plate earthquake here.

Here is a seismic selfie from Riley, a student at Humboldt State University (taking a geology course). This photo was posted on the HSU Dept. of Geology facebook page.

Below is my interpretive poster for this earthquake

  • I plot the seismicity from the past month, with diameter representing magnitude (see legend). I include earthquake epicenters from 1920-2020 with magnitudes M ≥ 3.5 in one version.
  • I plot the USGS fault plane solutions (moment tensors in blue and focal mechanisms in orange), possibly in addition to some relevant historic earthquakes.
  • A review of the basic base map variations and data that I use for the interpretive posters can be found on the Earthquake Reports page.
  • Some basic fundamentals of earthquake geology and plate tectonics can be found on the Earthquake Plate Tectonic Fundamentals page.

    I include some inset figures. Some of the same figures are located in different places on the larger scale map below.

  • In the lower left corner is a legend, but to the right is an inset map of the Cascadia subduction zone (modified from Nelson et al., 2006). I place a blue star in the location of yesterday’s earthquake.
  • In the upper left corner is a small scale map showing the entire pacific northwest with some historic seismicity (up to central Oregon; I forgot to download the data from the entire region; there are other examples of this).
  • To the right of that is a map showing the USGS Did You Feel It observation results showing how broadly this earthquake was felt. My friend in Redding told me that they felt it. This made sense since the Mendocino fault points right at Redding, but it was also felt in southern California (probably from site amplification from sedimentary basins). The color is the same scale as in the legend for shaking intensity (MMI).
  • Here is the map with a week’s and century’s seismicity plotted. I include the USGS model for shaking intensity as a transparent overlay (with MMI intensities up to M 5 near the epicenter).

Other Report Pages

Some Relevant Discussion and Figures

  • The USGS models earthquake intensity using what we often call “Ground Motion Prediction Equations.” Some prefer to change this terminology as the word “prediction” is problematic (because one cannot predict earthquakes).
  • Basically, the further away from an earthquake, the less one feels the shaking. These GMPE “intensity-distance” relations are based on the measurements of earthquake shaking from thousands of earthquakes. There are a variety of factors that control the ground shaking in addition to the distance.
  • The USGS has a “Did You Feel It?” system where people can submit their observations using an online questionnaire. These observations are converted to an intensity value using the Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) scale. I explain this a little more here.
  • Here is a figure that I prepared using the USGS map of DYFI results. I also include a plot that shows how the intensity (vertical axis) decays with distance (horizontal axis) from the earthquake.

  • Here is a map of the Cascadia subduction zone, modified from Nelson et al. (2006). The Juan de Fuca and Gorda plates subduct north eastwardly 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 Rollins and Stein, showing their interpretations of different historic earthquakes in the region. This was published in response to the January 2010 Gorda plate earthquake. The faults are from Chaytor et al. (2004). The 1980, 1992, 1994, 2005, and 2010 earthquakes are plotted and labeled. I did not mention the 2010 earthquake, but it most likely was just like 1980 and 2005, a left-lateral strike-slip earthquake on a northeast striking fault.

  • Here is a large scale map of the 1994 earthquake swarm. The mainshock epicenter is a black star and epicenters are denoted as white circles.

  • Here is a plot of focal mechanisms from the Dengler et al. (1995) paper in California Geology.

  • 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.

  • This figure shows how a subduction zone deforms between (interseismic) and during (coseismic) earthquakes. We also can see how a subduction zone generates a tsunami. Atwater et al., 2005.

  • Here is an animation produced by the folks at Cal Tech following the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman subduction zone earthquake. I have several posts about that earthquake here and here. One may learn more about this animation, as well as download this animation here.
  • Here is a link to the embedded video below, showing the week-long seismicity in April 1992.
  • This is the map used in the animation below. Earthquake epicenters are plotted (some with USGS moment tensors) for this region from 1917-2017 with M ≥ 6.5. I labeled the plates and shaded their general location in different colors.
  • I include some inset maps.
    • In the upper right corner is a map of the Cascadia subduction zone (Chaytor et al., 2004; Nelson et al., 2004).
    • In the upper left corner is a map from Rollins and Stein (2010). They plot epicenters and fault lines involved in earthquakes between 1976 and 2010.

  • Here is a link to the embedded video below, showing these earthquakes.

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    Basic & General References

  • Frisch, W., Meschede, M., Blakey, R., 2011. Plate Tectonics, Springer-Verlag, London, 213 pp.
  • Hayes, G., 2018, Slab2 – A Comprehensive Subduction Zone Geometry Model: U.S. Geological Survey data release,
  • Holt, W. E., C. Kreemer, A. J. Haines, L. Estey, C. Meertens, G. Blewitt, and D. Lavallee (2005), Project helps constrain continental dynamics and seismic hazards, Eos Trans. AGU, 86(41), 383–387, , /li>
  • Jessee, M.A.N., Hamburger, M. W., Allstadt, K., Wald, D. J., Robeson, S. M., Tanyas, H., et al. (2018). A global empirical model for near-real-time assessment of seismically induced landslides. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 123, 1835–1859.
  • Kreemer, C., J. Haines, W. Holt, G. Blewitt, and D. Lavallee (2000), On the determination of a global strain rate model, Geophys. J. Int., 52(10), 765–770.
  • Kreemer, C., W. E. Holt, and A. J. Haines (2003), An integrated global model of present-day plate motions and plate boundary deformation, Geophys. J. Int., 154(1), 8–34, ,
  • Kreemer, C., G. Blewitt, E.C. Klein, 2014. A geodetic plate motion and Global Strain Rate Model in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, v. 15, p. 3849-3889,
  • 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.
  • Müller, R.D., Sdrolias, M., Gaina, C. and Roest, W.R., 2008, Age spreading rates and spreading asymmetry of the world’s ocean crust in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 9, Q04006,
  • Pagani,M. , J. Garcia-Pelaez, R. Gee, K. Johnson, V. Poggi, R. Styron, G. Weatherill, M. Simionato, D. Viganò, L. Danciu, D. Monelli (2018). Global Earthquake Model (GEM) Seismic Hazard Map (version 2018.1 – December 2018), DOI: 10.13117/GEM-GLOBAL-SEISMIC-HAZARD-MAP-2018.1
  • Silva, V ., D Amo-Oduro, A Calderon, J Dabbeek, V Despotaki, L Martins, A Rao, M Simionato, D Viganò, C Yepes, A Acevedo, N Horspool, H Crowley, K Jaiswal, M Journeay, M Pittore, 2018. Global Earthquake Model (GEM) Seismic Risk Map (version 2018.1).
  • Zhu, J., Baise, L. G., Thompson, E. M., 2017, An Updated Geospatial Liquefaction Model for Global Application, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 107, p 1365-1385,
  • Specific References

  • 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.
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Wallace, Robert E., ed., 1990, The San Andreas fault system, California: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1515, 283 p. [].

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Category(s): cascadia, earthquake, education, geology, gorda, mendocino, pacific, plate tectonics, San Andreas, San Francisco, strike-slip, subduction, Transform

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