Earthquake Report: Gorda plate

On 10 February 2010 there was an earthquake with a magnitude of M 6.5, within the Gorda plate. This event was feld widely in the region, as well as statewide. In Humboldt County, we even made t-shirts about this quake. I write this report after ten years of reflection.
The Cascadia subduction zone is formed where the Gorda and Juan de Fuca plates subduct northeastward beneath the North America plate.
The Gorda is losing the battle between the JdF plate to the north and the Pacific plate to the south, both of which are colder, older, and more dense (basically, they form a vise that is squeezing Gorda so much that it deforms internally). This internal deformation results in the formation of left lateral strike slip faults in the southern GP that form on preexisting faults (originally formed at the Gorda rise, where the Gorda plate crust is created).
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 1919-2019 with magnitudes M ≥ 3.0 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 upper corner is a map showing the main plate boundary faults (from the Global Earthquake Model, GEM), historic seismicity (gray = 1 century, light orange = 1 year, dark orange = 1 month). The coastline is from “Natural Earth” (a source for free GIS data).
  • In the upper right corner is a map with historic seismicity (1 century) overlain upon a Global Strain Rate dataset (Kreemer et al., 2014). Red shows areas of high strain and blue represents areas of low strain. Strain is the change in shape or volume of a material. The strain in this figure is from deformation of the crust due to plate tectonics.
  • In the lower right corner is a large scale view of the seismicity plotted in the upper right corner inset map. I placed a dashed black line to represent an hypothetical fault, ~60 km long, that may have ruptured during this earthquake.
  • To the left of the strain map is a figure from Rollins and Stein (2010) that displays faults, in blue, that have ruptured historically. These authors studied how these different earthquakes may have changed the stress on faults in the region.
  • Here is the map with a month’s seismicity plotted.

Earthquake Shaking Intensity

  • Here is a figure that shows a more detailed comparison between the modeled intensity and the reported intensity. Both data use the same color scale, the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (MMI). More about this can be found here. The colors and contours on the map are results from the USGS modeled intensity (labeled as “MMI X”). The DYFI data are plotted as colored polygons (color = MMI, labeled as “DYFI #.#”).
  • In the lower right corner is a map of the region, showing the modeled intensities, with some cities labeled.
  • In the upper right corner is a plot showing MMI intensity (vertical axis) relative to distance from the earthquake (horizontal axis). The USGS model is represented by the orange lines. The DYFI data are plotted as light blue dots.
  • On the bottom, to the right of the legend, are the DYFI results for California and Oregon. Note the area between the earthquake and Medford is slightly elevated compared to other regions of similar distance from the earthquake. This may be due to directivity in the ground motions (the fault points directly to this area of increased intensity).
  • The earthquake mechanisms that I plotted are largely from Gorda plate earthquakes, though there are a couple from the Mendocino fault. The Gorda plate is internally deforming (and some don’t even consider it to be a plate). There are faults that were formed at the Gorda Rise (as normal faults) that, due to the internal deformation, are reactivating as left-lateral strike-slip faults. Note that the Mendocino fault is a right-lateral strike-slip fault.

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.

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • The surface of North America responded from the M 6.5 earthquake by moving in directions relative to the source fault.
  • On the USGS map below, the blue arrows represent the direction and amount that a GPS site moved during the earthquake. The base of the arrows represent the GPS site location. The length of the arrow represents the amount of movement. The circles represent the uncertainty (error) for each measurement.
  • One observation we can make is the direction of motion for the Trinidad GPS site (the most northwestern site) as it moves to the southwest. If we project the M 6.5 fault landward, it trends east of Trinidad. So, Trinidad is on the side of the fault (in the Gorda plate) that moved to the southwest. Because Trinidad moved to the southwest (in the same motion as the Gorda plate), this demonstrates that the Cascadia megathrust subduction zone fault is seismogenically locked.
  • We think that these areas where the fault is locked between earthquakes are the regions of the fault that slip during earthquakes.

Stress Triggering

  • When an earthquake fault slips, the crust surrounding the fault squishes and expands, deforming elastically (like in one’s underwear). These changes in shape of the crust cause earthquake fault stresses to change. These changes in stress can either increase or decrease the chance of another earthquake.
  • I wrote more about this type of earthquake triggering for Temblor here. Head over there to learn more about “static coulomb stress triggering.”
  • Rollins and Stein (2010) conducted this type of analysis for the 2010 M 6.5 Gorda Earthquake. They found that some of the faults in the region experienced an increase in fault stress (the red areas on the figure below). These changes in stress are very small, so require a fault to be at the “tipping point” for these changes in stress to cause an earthquake.
  • There was a triggered earthquake in this sequence. There was a M 5.9 event about 25 days after the mainshock, this earthquake happened in a region that saw increased stress after the M 6.5. The M 5.9 appears to have been on the same fault as the M 6.5
  • First, here is the fault model that Rollins and Stein used in their analysis of stress changes from the 2010 earthquake.

  • Source models for earthquakes S and T, 10 January 2010, M = 6.5, and 4 February 2010, Mw = 5.9.

  • Let’s take a look at some examples of analogic earthquakes to the 2010 temblor. First, here is a plot showing changes in stress following the 1980 Trinidad Earthquake (a very damaging earthquake in the region). This is the largest historic earthquake in the region at magnitude M 7.3 (other than the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake).

  • Coulomb stress changes imparted by the 1980 Mw = 7.3 earthquake (B) to a matrix of faults representing the Mendocino Fault Zone, the Cascadia subduction zone, and NE striking left‐lateral faults in the Gorda zone. The Mendocino Fault Zone is represented by right‐lateral faults whose strike rotates from 285° in the east to 270° in the west; Cascadia is represented by reverse faults striking 350° and dipping 9°; faults in the Gorda zone are represented by vertical left‐lateral faults striking 45°. The boundary between the left‐lateral “zone” and the reverse “zone” in the fault matrix is placed at the 6 km depth contour on Cascadia, approximated by extending the top edge of the Oppenheimer et al.
    [1993] model for the 1992 Cape Mendocino earthquake (J). Calculation depth is 5 km. The numbered brackets are groups of aftershocks from Hill et al. [1990].

  • Next let’s look at the stress changes following the 2005 M 7.2 earthquake.

  • Coulomb stress changes imparted by the Shao and Ji (2005) variable slip model for the 15 June 2005 Mw = 7.2 earthquake (P) to the epicenter of the 17 June 2005 Mw = 6.6 earthquake (Q). Calculation depth is 10 km.

  • Here is the figure we have all been waiting for (actually, the next one is cool too). This figure shows the changes in stress associated with the 2010 M 6.5 earthquake. Remember, these are just models.

  • Coulomb stress changes imparted by the D. Dreger (unpublished report, 2010, [no longer] available at∼dreger/jan10210_ff_summary.pdf) model for the January 2010 M = 6.5 shock (S) to nearby faults. East of the dashed line, stress changes are resolved on the Cascadia subduction zone, represented by a northward extension of the Oppenheimer et al. [1993] rupture plane for the 1992 Mw = 6.9 Cape Mendocino earthquake. West of the dashed line, stress changes are resolved on the NW striking nodal plane for the February 2010 Mw = 5.9 earthquake (T) at a depth of 23.6 km.

  • This is the main take-away figure from Rollins and Stein (2010). For each map, there is a source fault (in black) and receiver faults (red or blue, depending on the change in stress).
  • For example, in a, the source is a gorda plate left-lateral strike-slip fault. Parts of the Cascadia megathrust are represented on the right (triangles, labeled thrust). They also model changes in stress on the Mendocino fault (the red and blue lines at the bottom of “a”).

  • And, you thought it couldn’t get any better. Here is yet another fantastic figure showing the stress change on the Cascadia megathrust fault and on the Mendocino fault following the 2010 M 6.5 earthquake.


    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>
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  • 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
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  • 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.
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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. [].

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