Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Earthquake risk from strain rates on slipping faults



Discrete geodetic measurements made near active faults may capture only small bits of a relatively complex field of deformation surrounding a fault, making it difficult to accurately describe the nature of ongoing activity along the fault. This difficulty is compounded when geodetic measurements are reported as strain rates, which involve differences in the displacement between two or more sites over time. As a result, very low displacement rates can be quoted as very high strain rates, which may lead to incorrectly inferring high seismic risk. As an example, I look at a recent deformation study across the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). The NMSZ, located in east central United States and away from rapidly deforming plate boundaries, is best known for its series of three large earthquakes (M>7) in the early 1800s, and continues today with numerous small earthquakes (Figure 1).