Long-term High-Quality Deformation Observations near Active Faults in California
Abstract:For monitoring and for improved understanding of the seismic cycle we have collected continuous deformation data close to the two most active faults in Southern California over the past few decades. Pinyon Flat Observatory (PFO) is 14 km from the Anza section of the San Jacinto fault (slip rate 10-15 mm/yr), which has not produced a large earthquake in the past 200 years; Salton City (SCS) is within 15 km of the blind section of the fault further SE. Two locations (Cholame, or CHL, and Durmid Hill, or DHL) are within three km of the San Andreas fault (SAF): CHL, at the N end of the segment that ruptured in 1857, and DHL at the S end of the segment that ruptured about 1700. All these observatories use laser strainmeters (LSM's), 400 to 700 m long, and located on the surface with endpoints anchored 25 m deep. These instruments provide unique long-term high-quality measurements of strain; in geological settings from slightly weathered granite to lake-bed clay sediments, the LSM data record secular strain accumulation consistent with continuous GPS, while covering the temporal range from seismic waves to secular changes. At periods less than a few months, the LSM noise level is far below that from fault-scale GPS networks.
The LSM sites near the SAF show strain-rate fluctuations over periods of months and longer of up to 20 percent of the long-term rate, and have also observed aseismic strain events lasting hours to days. At CHL these short-term signals have been observed on borehole strainmeters nearby, and there and at DHL they appear to be a few km deep. Aseismic signals observed at PFO seem to be nearer to the seismogenic zone. In most cases further interpretation has been hampered by not having similar measurements at other locations, but the existing LSM data have been used to rule out possible aseismic strains from nearby earthquake swarms (DHL) and deep tremor (CHL).
The LSM data and other measurements at the observatories, confirm how important patience and persistence are for learning about the Earth: only an ongoing multiyear program can capture interesting signals and properly characterize the Earth's behavior. But it is not easy to maintain such data collection over geophysically useful timescales.