Stress sensitivity of fault seismicity: A comparison between limited-offset oblique and major strike-slip faults


  • Tom Parsons,

  • Ross S. Stein,

  • Robert W. Simpson,

  • Paul A. Reasenberg


We present a new three-dimensional inventory of the southern San Francisco Bay area faults and use it to calculate stress applied principally by the 1989 M = 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake and to compare fault seismicity rates before and after 1989. The major high-angle right-lateral faults exhibit a different response to the stress change than do minor oblique (right-lateral/thrust) faults. Seismicity on oblique-slip faults in the southern Santa Clara Valley thrust belt increased where the faults were undamped. The strong dependence of seismicity change on normal stress change implies a high coefficient of static friction. In contrast, we observe that faults with significant offset (>50–100 km) behave differently; microseismicity on the Hayward fault diminished where right-lateral shear stress was reduced and where it was undamped by the Loma Prieta earthquake. We observe a similar response on the San Andreas fault zone in southern California after the Landers earthquake sequence. Additionally, the offshore San Gregorio fault shows a seismicity rate increase where right-lateral/oblique shear stress was increased by the Loma Prieta earthquake despite also being clamped by it. These responses are consistent with either a low coefficient of static friction or high pore fluid pressures within the fault zones. We can explain the different behavior of the two styles of faults if those with large cumulative offset become impermeable through gouge buildup; coseismically pressurized pore fluids could be trapped and negate imposed normal stress changes, whereas in more limited offset faults, fluids could rapidly escape. The difference in behavior between minor and major faults may explain why frictional failure criteria that apply intermediate coefficients of static friction can be effective in describing the broad distributions of aftershocks that follow large earthquakes, since many of these events occur both inside and outside major fault zones.