Earthquake Report: Blanco fracture zone

As I was getting ready for school today, I noticed the M 6.2 notification from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service. People can sign up for the USGS ENS so that they can get emails when the USGS broadcasts this information.
Most all apps that people install on their devices use the USGS feed as a basis for the sources for those apps. So, it is rather ironic when people make claims that they use these apps because they don’t trust the USGS. When I read statements like that, I just roll my eyes. People love ways to promote their conspiratorial views of the world. Here is the USGS ENS web page.

The most recent earthquake on the Blanco fracture zone was less than a month ago. Here is my report on that earthquake.

The BFZ is a transform plate boundary that connects the Juan de Fuca ridge with the Gorda rise spreading centers.

As for all individual earthquakes along the BFZ, there are no direct implications for earthquake or tsunami hazards along the Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ) as a result of these BFZ earthquakes. Even though people felt this M 6.2 along the coast of Oregon, as well as in the Willamette Valley and Portland, the earthquake is just too far away from the CSZ to change the static stresses within the CSZ megathrust fault, or within the North America, Juan de Fuca, or Gorda plates.

Magnetic Anomalies

  • 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 structures in the Gorda, Juad de Fuca, and Pacific plates in this region are largely inherited from the extensional tectonic and volcanic processes at the Gorda rise and Juan de Fuca Ridge. 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.
  • Note how some of the magnetic anomalies appear to be offset along lines that are sub-parallel to the BFZ. This is because they are.

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 one version, I include earthquake epicenters from 1918-2018 with magnitudes M ≥ 6.0.
I plot the USGS fault plane solutions (moment tensors in blue and focal mechanisms in orange), possibly 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 also include the shaking intensity contours on the map. These use the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (MMI; see the legend on the map). This is based upon a computer model estimate of ground motions, different from the “Did You Feel It?” estimate of ground motions that is actually based on real observations. The MMI is a qualitative measure of shaking intensity. More on the MMI scale can be found here and here. This is based upon a computer model estimate of ground motions, different from the “Did You Feel It?” estimate of ground motions that is actually based on real observations.
  • 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 earthquake (as in other inset figures in this poster).
  • In the lower right corner is an illustration modified from Plafker (1972). This figure shows how a subduction zone deforms between (interseismic) and during (coseismic) earthquakes. Today’s earthquake did not occur along the CSZ, so did not produce crustal deformation like this. However, it is useful to know this when studying the CSZ. Today’s earthquakes happened in the lower Gorda plate
  • In the upper left corner is a map showing the details for the faulting along the BFZ (Braunmiller and Nabelek (2008). Note that this zone is quite complicated and includes several normal fault bounded pull-apart basins.
  • In the lower left corner is a map from Dziak et al. (2000) that shows the topography (in the upper panel) and the faulting (in the lower panel) along the BFZ. Blue = lower elevation, deeper oceanic depths; Red = shallower oceanic depth, higher elevation. I placed orange arrows to help one locate the normal faults (perpendicular to the strike-slip faults) in this map. Compare this inset map with the Google Earth bathymetry in the main map. Can you see the BFZ perpendicular ridges?
  • I include two main interpretive posters for this earthquake. One includes information from this earthquake, including the MMI contours and USGS “Did You Feel It?” colored polygons. This way we can compare the modeled estimate of intensity (MMI contours) and the reports from real people (DYFI data). There are some good matches and some mismatches (in western Oregon). Check this out and try to think about why there may be mismatches.

  • The second poster includes earthquake information for earthquakes with M ≥ 6.0. I place fault mechanisms for all existing USGS mechanisms from the Blanco fracture zone and I include some examples from the rest of the region. These other mechanisms show how different areas have different tectonic regimes. Earthquakes within the Gorda plate are largely responding to being deformed in a tectonic die between the surrounding stronger plates (northeast striking (oriented) left-lateral strike-slip earthquakes). I include one earthquake along the Mendocino fracture zone, a right-lateral (dextral) strike-slip earthquake from 1994. I include one of the more memorable thrust earthquakes, the 1992 Cape Mendocino earthquake. I also include an extensional earthquake from central Oregon that may represent extension (basin and range?) in the northwestern region of the basin and range.

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.

  • This is the figure from Dziak et al. (2000) for us to evaluate. I include their long figure caption below.

  • (Top) Sea Beam bathymetric map of the Cascadia Depression, Blanco Ridge, and Gorda Depression, eastern Blanco Transform Fault Zone (BTFZ).Multibeam bathymetry was collected by the NOAA R/V’s Surveyor and Discoverer and the R/V Laney Chouest during 12 cruises in the 1980’s and 90’s. Bathymetry displayed using a 500 m grid interval. Numbers with arrows show look directions of three-dimensional diagrams in Figures 2 and 3. (Bottom) Structure map, interpreted from bathymetry, showing active faults and major geologic features of the region. Solid lines represent faults, dashed lines are fracture zones, and dotted lines show course of turbidite channels. When possible to estimate sense of motion on a fault, a filled circle shows the down-thrown side. Inset maps show location and generalized geologic structure of the BTFZ. Location of seismic reflection and gravity/magnetics profiles indicated by opposing brackets. D-D’ and E-E’ are the seismic reflection profiles shown in Figures 8a and 8b, and G-G’ is the gravity and magnetics profile shown in Figure 13. Submersible dive tracklines from sites 1 through 4 are highlighted in red. L1 and L2 are two lineations seen in three-dimensional bathymetry shown in Figures 2 and 3. Location of two Blanco Ridge slump scars indicated by half-rectangles, inferred direction of slump shown by arrow, and debris location (when identified) designated by an ‘S’. CD stands for Cascadia Depression, BR is Blanco Ridge, GD is Gorda Depression, and GR is Gorda Ridge. Numbers on north and south side of transform represent Juan de Fuca and Pacific plate crustal ages inferred from magnetic anomalies. Long-term plate motion rate between the Pacific and southern Juan de Fuca plates from Wilson (1989).

BFZ Historic Seismicity

  • There were two Mw 4.2 earthquakes associated with this plate boundary fault system in mid 2015. I plot the moment tensors for these earthquakes (USGS pages: 4/7/15 and 4/11/15) in this map below. I also have placed the relative plate motions as arrows, labeled the plates, and placed a transparent focal mechanism plot above the BFZ showing the general sense of motion across this plate boundary. There have been several earthquakes along the Mendocino fault recently and I write about them 1/2015 here and 4/2015 here.

  • There was also seismic activity along the BFZ later in 2015. Here are my report and report update.
  • Here is a map showing these earthquakes, with moment tensors plotted for the M 5.8 and M 5.5 earthquakes. I include an inset map showing the plate configuration based upon the Nelson et al. (2004) and Chaytor et al. (2004) papers (I modified it). I also include a cross section of the subduction zone, as it is configured in-between earthquakes (interseismic) and during earthquakes (coseismic), modified from Plafker (1972).

  • I put together an animation that includes the seismicity from 1/1/2000 until 6/1/2015 for the region near the Blanco fracture zone, with earthquake magnitudes greater than or equal to M = 5.0. The map here shows all these epicenters, with the moment tensors for earthquakes of M = 6 or more (plus the two largest earthquakes from today’s swarm). Here is the page that I posted regarding the beginning of this swarm. Here is a post from some earthquakes earlier this year along the BFZ.
  • Earthquake epicenters are plotted with the depth designated by color and the magnitude depicted by the size of the circle. These are all fairly shallow earthquakes at depths suitable for oceanic lithosphere.

    Here is the list of the earthquakes with moment tensors plotted in the above maps (with links to the USGS websites for those earthquakes):

  • 2000/06/02 M 6.0
  • 2003/01/16 M 6.3
  • 2008/01/10 M 6.3
  • 2012/04/12 M 6.0
  • 2015/06/01 M 5.8
  • 2015/06/01 M 5.9
    Here are some files that are outputs from that USGS search above.

  • csv file
  • kml file (not animated)
  • kml file (animated)


    Here are links to the video files (it might be easier to download them and view them remotely as the files are large).

  • First Animation (20 mb mp4 file)
  • Second Animation (10 mb mp4 file)

Here is the first animation that first adds the epicenters through time (beginning with the oldest earthquakes), then removes them through time (beginning with the oldest earthquakes).

Here is the second animation that uses a one-year moving window. This way, one year after an earthquake is plotted, it is removed from the plot. This animation is good to see the spatiotemporal variation of seismicity along the BFZ.

Here is a map with all the fore- and after-shocks plotted to date.

Gorda Plate Seismicity

  • 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.

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


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  • 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.
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  • Dziak, R.P., Fox, C.G., Embleey, R.W., Nabelek, J.L., Braunmiller, J., and Koski, R.A., 2000. Recent tectonics of the Blanco Ridge, eastern blanco transform fault zone in Marine Geophysical Researches, vol. 21, p. 423-450
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