Modeling the rupture dynamics of strong ground motion (> 1 g) in fault stepovers

Julian C. Lozos, Sinan O. Akciz, & Holland Ladage

Under Review 2023, SCEC Contribution #13434

Following the July 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes, multiple field investigators noted that pebble- to boulder-sized rocks had been displaced from their place in the desert pavement along the right-lateral strike-slip M7.1 rupture trace. This implies localized ground motions in excess of 1 g, in contrast to instrumentally recorded ground motions which peak at ~0.5 g. These rocks are concentrated within an extensional stepover near the southern end of the M7.1 rupture. Similar rock displacement occurred in a stepover in the predominantly strike-slip 2010 M7.2 El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake. Together, these examples suggest that some aspect of how earthquake rupture negotiates a strike-slip fault stepover produces extremely localized strong ground acceleration. Here, we use the 3D finite element method to investigate how rupture through a variety of strike-slip stepover geometries influences strong ground acceleration. For subshear ruptures, we find that the presence of a stepover in general matters more than its dimensions; the strongest ground acceleration always occurs at the end of the first fault. For supershear ruptures, the stepover is effectively irrelevant, since the strongest particle acceleration occurs at the point of the supershear transition on the first fault. Our model subshear and supershear ruptures alike do produce horizontal particle acceleration above 1 g, but over a region so close to the fault (< 1 km) that a seismic network may not catch it. We suggest that the physics of rupture through a fault stepover could have been responsible for the displaced rocks in the Ridgecrest and El Mayor-Cucapah earthquakes, and that stepover regions may have particularly high ground motion hazard. Our study suggests that ground motion predictions and local hazard assessments should account for much stronger shaking in the immediate near field of active faults, especially around stepovers and other geometrical discontinuities.

Lozos, J. C., Akciz, S. O., & Ladage, H. (2023). Modeling the rupture dynamics of strong ground motion (> 1 g) in fault stepovers. Tectonophysics, (under review).

Related Projects & Working Groups
Fault and Rupture Mechanics (FARM), GMP