Oceanic Transform Fault-Zone Geomorphology in the Gulf of California from High-Resolution Bathymetric Data
Abstract:We use high-resolution, deep-water bathymetry to examine the structure of, and offset along, transform faults in the Gulf of California. These data provide detailed observations of fault-zone geomorphology of an active transform fault hosted in an area transitioning from continental to oceanic crust. Bathymetric data were collected by an autonomous underwater vehicle deployed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in 2012. Dense ocean-bottom point clouds allowed construction of an ~1-m-resolution digital terrain model, which provides comparable spatial resolution to early airborne laser swath mapping surveys. The data reveal a set of complex, multi-stranded fault zones, whose morphologies suggest a temporal migration of deformation between individual strands contained within an up to 1 km wide zone, similar to complex fault zones observed within continental crust in subaerial environments. Individual fault strands show restraining steps that create positive relief along the ocean floor in their vicinity.
Although the depositional nature of these deep-water systems makes identification of offset features challenging, we found a series of offset fans along a fault strand with consistent right-lateral offsets of 17-21 m. These are likely multi-event offsets, given the length of the transform segments and magnitudes of historically recorded earthquakes in the region. The consistency of these multi-event offsets suggests that an external process predating the displacement of the fans, such as seismic shaking due to large earthquakes, may be responsible for the synchroneity of these features. Our study demonstrates that the fault-zone geomorphology of oceanic transform faults in the Gulf of California bears resemblance to that of terrestrial strike-slip faults hosted in continental crust, and that high-resolution, deep water bathymetry can provide information about the earthquake history of these environments.