Crustal Strain Patterns Associated With Normal, Drought, and Heavy Precipitation Years in California

Jeonghyeop Kim, Alireza Bahadori, & William E. Holt

Published January 4, 2021, SCEC Contribution #11752

We invert continuously operating Global Positioning System (cGPS) data obtained between 2007 and 2019 to quantify non steady-state horizontal strain anomalies in California. Our long-wavelength transient strain model shows seasonal and multiannual variations in horizontal strain anomalies within the plate boundary zone. During the summer, in general, a zone of extensional dilatation develops along the San Andreas Fault zone and Sierra Nevada, whereas contractional dilatation develops along the Eastern California Shear Zone (ECSZ) north of 36.5°N. The patterns of dilatational strain are opposite during the winter. We find that these seasonal strain anomaly patterns vary in magnitude, depending on precipitation intensity in California. Investigating hydrologic loading models and their horizontal elastic responses reveal that water mass loads on the surface from the precipitation in California are the major sources of the observed long-wavelength horizontal transient strains. We show, however, that a heavy damping in the inversion of the cGPS data is required for the long-wavelength horizontal strain solutions to best match with the expected elastic response from hydrologic loading. Appropriate fitting of the horizontal cGPS yields amplified horizontal strain signals in the Sierra Nevada, along regions adjacent to the San Andreas Fault, and within the ECSZ. The larger-than-expected amplitudes may be associated with poroelastic responses or thermoelastic changes that are superimposed on the hydrologic response. We demonstrate that there is a persistent sharp boundary of horizontal dilatational strain domains at the transition between the High Sierra and Basin and Range Province, caused by the sharp gradient in hydrologic loading there.

Kim, J., Bahadori, A., & Holt, W. E. (2021). Crustal Strain Patterns Associated With Normal, Drought, and Heavy Precipitation Years in California. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 126(1). doi: 10.1029/2020JB019560.