High-resolution electromagnetic imaging of the San Andreas fault in Central California

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  • Although there is increasing evidence that fluids may play a significant role in the earthquake rupture process, direct observation of fluids in active fault zones remains difficult. Since the presence of an electrically conducting fluid, such as saline pore water, strongly influences the overall conductivity of crustal rocks, electrical and electromagnetic methods offer great potential for overcoming this difficulty. Here we present and compare results from high-resolution magnetotelluric (MT) profiles across two segments of the San Andreas Fault (SAF) which exhibit very different patterns of seismicity: Parkfield, which has regular small earthquakes and creep events, and in the Carrizo Plain, where the fault is seismically quiescent and apparently locked. In both surveys, electric fields were sampled continuously, with 100 m long dipoles laid end-to-end across the fault. From 100 to 0.1 Hz the data from both profiles are consistent with a two-dimensional (2-D) fault-parallel resistivity model. When both transverse electric and magnetic (TE and TM) mode data are included in the interpretation, narrow (~300-600 m wide) zones of low resistivity extending to depths of 2-4 km in the core of the fault are required at both locations. However, at Parkfield the conductance (conductivity thickness product) of the anomalous region is an order of magnitude larger than at Carrizo Plain, suggesting much higher concentrations of fluids for the more seismically active Parkfield segment. We also image structural differences between the two segments. At Carrizo Plain, resistive, presumably crystalline, rocks are present on both sides of the fault at depths below 3-4 kin. In particular, we clearly image resistive basement extending •10 km or more east of the SAF, beneath the Elkhorn Hills and Temblor Range. At Parkfield the situation is quite different with a resistive block of Salinian granite west of the fault and an electrically conductive, presumably fluid rich Franciscan complex to the east. It is possible that these structural differences control the difference in mechanical behavior of the fault, either directly by affecting fault strength or indirectly by controlling fluid supply.
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  • Unsworth, M., Egbert, G., & Booker, J. (1999). High-resolution electromagnetic imaging of the San Andreas fault in Central California. Journal of Geophysical Research, 104(B1), 1131-1150.
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  • 104
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  • NSF grant EAR-93-16160. U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake hazard reduction program grant 1434-94-6-2423. U.S. Department of Energy grants DE-FG06-92-ER14231 and DE-FG06-92-ER14277.



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