Multiscale variations of the crustal stress field throughout North America

Jens-Erik Lund Snee, & Mark D. Zoback

Published April 23, 2020, SCEC Contribution #10921

The Earth’s crustal stress field controls active deformation and reflects the processes driving plate tectonics. Here we present the first quantitative synthesis of relative principal stress magnitudes throughout North America together with hundreds of new horizontal stress orientations, revealing coherent stress fields at various scales. A continent-scale transition from compression (strike-slip and/or reverse faulting) in eastern North America to strike-slip faulting in the mid-continent to predominantly extension in western intraplate North America is likely due (at least in part) to drag at the base of the lithosphere. Published geodynamic models, incorporating gravitational potential energy and tractions from plate motions or relative mantle flow, successfully predict most large-wavelength stress rotations but not the shorter-wavelength (<~200 km) rotations observed in the western USA. The stresses resulting from glacial isostatic adjustment appear to be much smaller than the magnitude of ambient tectonic stresses in the crust at depth.

Lund Snee, J., & Zoback, M. D. (2020). Multiscale variations of the crustal stress field throughout North America. Nature Communications, 11(1). doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-15841-5.