The active fault traces on which earthquakes occur are generally not continuous1, and are commonly composed of segments that are separated by discontinuities that appear as steps in map-view. Stress concentrations resulting from slip at such discontinuities may slow or stop rupture propagation and hence play a controlling role in limiting the length of earthquake rupture2. Here I examine the mapped surface rupture traces of 22 historical strike-slip earthquakes with rupture lengths ranging between 10 and 420 km. I show that about two-thirds of the endpoints of strike-slip earthquake ruptures are associated with fault steps or the termini of active fault traces, and that there exists a limiting dimension of fault step (3–4 km) above which earthquake ruptures do not propagate and below which rupture propagation ceases only about 40 per cent of the time. The results are of practical importance to seismic hazard analysis where effort is spent attempting to place limits on the probable length of future earthquakes on mapped active faults. Physical insight to the dynamics of the earthquake rupture process is further gained with the observation that the limiting dimension appears to be largely independent of the earthquake rupture length. It follows that the magnitude of stress changes and the volume affected by those stress changes at the driving edge of laterally propagating ruptures are largely similar and invariable during the rupture process regardless of the distance an event has propagated or will propagate.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Scientific Reports Open Access 23 June 2022
Communications Earth & Environment Open Access 06 August 2021
Active fault segments along the North Anatolian Fault system in the Sea of Marmara: implication for seismic hazard
Mediterranean Geoscience Reviews Open Access 08 March 2021
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Wesnousky, S. Seismological and structural evolution of strike-slip faults. Nature 335, 340–343 (1988)
Segall, P. & Pollard, D. D. Mechanics of discontinuous faults. J. Geophys. Res. 85, 4337–4350 (1980)
King, G. C. P. & Nabelek, J. F. Role of fault bends in the initiation and termination of earthquake rupture. Science 228, 984–987 (1985)
Barka, A. & Kadinsky-Cade, K. Strike-slip fault geometry in Turkey and its influence on earthquake activity. Tectonics 7, 663–684 (1988)
Schwartz, D. P. & Sibson, R. H. Fault Segmentation and Controls of Rupture Initiation and Termination (United States Geological Survey, USGS open-file report 89-315, Proc. Conf. XLV, Palm Springs, California, 1989)
Zhang, P., Slemmons, D. B. & Mao, F. Geometric pattern, rupture termination, and fault segmentation of the Dixie Valley-Pleasant Valley active normal fault systems, Nevada. USA J. Struct. Geol. 13, 165–176 (1991)
Sibson, R. H. Stopping of earthquake ruptures at dilational fault jogs. Nature 316, 248–251 (1985)
Sibson, R. H. in Earthquake Source Mechanics 157–167 (American Geophysical Union, Washington DC, 1986)
Harris, R. A. & Day, S. M. Dynamics of fault interaction—parallel strike-slip faults. J. Geophys. Res. 18, 4461–4472 (1993)
Harris, R. A. & Day, S. M. Dynamic 3D simulations of earthquakes on en echelon faults. Geophys. Res. Lett. 98, 2089–2092 (1999)
Oglesby, D. D. The dynamics of strike-slip step-overs with linking dip-slip faults. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 95, 1604–1622 (2005)
Harris, R. A., Archuleta, R. J. & Day, S. M. Fault steps and the dynamic rupture process: 2-D numerical simulations of a spontaneously propagating shear fracture. Geophys. Res. Lett. 18, 893–896 (1991)
Harris, R. A., Dolan, J. F., Hartleb, R. & Day, S. M. The 1999 Izmit, Turkey earthquake—A 3D dynamic stress transfer model of intraearthquake triggering. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 92, 245–255 (2002)
Kase, Y. & Kuge, K. Numerical simulation of spontaneous rupture processes on two non-coplanar faults: the effect of geometry on fault interaction. Geophys. J. Int. 135, 911–922 (1998)
Brace, W. F. & Kohlstedt, D. L. Limits on lithospheric stress imposed by laboratory experiments. J. Geophys. Res. 85, 6248–6252 (1980)
Graymer, R. W., Langenheim, V. E., Simpson, R. W., Jachens, R. C. & Ponce, D. A. Relatively simple throughgoing fault planes at large earthquake depth may be concealed by surface complexity in stepover regions. In Tectonics of Strike-slip Restraining and Releasing Bends (eds Cunningham, D. & Mann, P.) (Geological Society of London Special Volume, in the press).
Simpson, R. W., Barall, M., Langbein, J., Murray, J. R. & Rymer, M. J. San Andreas fault geometry in the Parkfield, California region. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 96, S28–S37 (2006)
Bodin, P. & Brune, J. N. On the scaling of slip with rupture length for shallow strike-slip earthquakes: Quasi-static models and dynamic rupture propagation. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 86, 1292–1299 (1996)
Heaton, T. H. Evidence for and implication of self-healing pulses of slip in earthquake rupture. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 64, 1–20 (1990)
McCann, W. R., Nishenko, S. P., Sykes, L. R. & Krause, J. Seismic gaps and plate tectonics: seismic potential for major boundaries. Pure Appl. Geophys. 117, 1082–1147 (1979)
I thank J. Dolan, R. Dmowska, R. Harris, B. Oglesby and B. Shaw for comments or reviews when developing the manuscript. Research was supported in part by a USGS NHERP contract and an NSF/SCEC award.
Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The author declares no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Wesnousky, S. Predicting the endpoints of earthquake ruptures. Nature 444, 358–360 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05275
This article is cited by
Scientific Reports (2022)
Journal of Earth System Science (2022)
Nature Geoscience (2021)
Establishing primary surface rupture evidence and magnitude of the 1697 CE Sadiya earthquake at the Eastern Himalayan Frontal thrust, India
Scientific Reports (2021)
Communications Earth & Environment (2021)